Photo: Halil Fidan/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images
[…] In his analysis, published in the Russian business magazine Expert earlier this week, [Russian journalist and military analyst Pyotr] Skarabahaty recalled that “a series of major victories by the Syrian Army over the past month have created the appearance of a well-oiled military machine ready to clear the country from every remaining terrorist. Amid the background of the ceasefire, endorsed by the leaders of Russia and the US, some experts have plunged into grim speculation about a Russian betrayal of Damascus, while others rushed to build grandiose plans for an offensive deep into territories controlled by Daesh (ISIL).”
At the same time, “at the beginning of the week, militants from the self-declared caliphate” cast aside the predictions and planning of both sides, “organizing a serious offensive in the center of the country. In order to stop the breakthrough and unlock the ‘lifeline’ linking Aleppo with the coast, it became necessary for the Syrian Army to transfer significant forces from the north.”
This, Skarabahaty suggests, is a clear indication that “Assad’s army still has a weakened immune system following a serious illness which almost finished off the armed forces and the country as a whole” over the last five years. “And under such conditions, a conditional truce no longer seems like such a silly idea.”
[…] Why This Ceasefire is Different
“In 2012,” Skarabahaty recalls, “rebels seized the Syrian city of Homs. The Syrian Army began an operation, but was stopped by political pressures from the West against the Syrian government. As a result, Damascus lost control over Homs and other territories, and foreign fighters and arms began flowing into the country through the borders with Turkey and Jordan. In Iraq, Daesh appeared, smashing the American-trained Iraqi army, and gaining access to a huge arsenal. The second truce, in 2014, nearly cost Assad his head, resulting in the loss of 80% of the country. What is it that allows the legitimate Syrian government to count on a different outcome this time?”
The answer, the journalist suggests, has several layers.
First off, “the peace process launched on Moscow’s initiative and agreed to by Washington, has all the signs of a serious and well-thought out initiative. This is demonstrated by the high level at which the agreement was reached, [including] Vladimir Putin’s speech and the official expression of support in Damascus.”
“A truce for a period of two weeks, with the possibility of extension, will come into force on February 27, regardless of which anti-government militants support it. And here is a fundamental factor, which will eventually help weed out the ‘moderate’ rebels from the radicals, and end the accusations against the Russian-Syrian coalition about its destruction of the opposition.”
“The main issue with which Washington will now be engaged,” Skarabahaty says, “is the determination of the areas where fighting will be stopped, and listing the small groups subject to the agreement. This will not be an easy task. The Syrian front is not just a layer cake controlled by various groups. Sometimes it is impossible to determine which group militants belong to, and the terrorists themselves easily change their ideological colors, depending on the political situation and the favor of their sponsors.”
“However, the ceasefire puts the militants into a stalemate: don’t agree to the truce, and be listed as a radical, subject to destruction. Agree, and be listed as a traitor by your ‘principled’ radical neighbors. Therefore, here, like it or not, rebels will be forced to take the Syrian Army’s side.”
“The unintelligible palette of terrorism in Syria has long played into the hands of Assad’s opponents. Now, Russia is trying to sort this mess into its component parts, and to turn the militants against one another,” the analyst emphasizes.
Furthermore, parliamentary elections have been scheduled for April 13. “This means that in the militant–occupied territories entering into a truce, it will be necessary to provide access to government officials for the organization of voting and political forces for campaigning.”
“At the same time, a legitimate platform for protecting one’s interests through non-violent means will appear.” This, in turn, will be an important factor for Western observers, the journalist points out.
“Finally,” Skarabahaty writes, “Bashar Assad recently announced an amnesty for all former soldiers who deserted or went over to the enemy…The ceasefire is a good opportunity to work with them through various channels, maybe not for Assad, but for Russian advisors.”
Ultimately, the analyst suggests, the fundamental issue is not about those groups and territories which agree to the ceasefire, but those territories in which battles will continue – against Daesh, Nusra Front, and other militant groups classified as terrorists by the UN Security Council, including Ahrar ash-Sham. And given that these forces operate from Idlib to Aleppo, from Hama to Homs, this means that “fighting on almost all fronts will continue.”
All in all, Skarabahaty notes, “few could have predicted the plans of the Russian-Syrian coalition, and, moreover, could see the real condition of Assad’s forces. Four months ago, our Western partners and a host of domestic prophets predicted a second Afghanistan for Russia. Today, we are allowing Washington not to lose face, and to play by our rules. The price? One regiment of the Russian Aerospace Defense Forces.”