If there is any hope for the ceasefire, it will fall to Russia and the US to save it
A ceasefire is vital and any political process requires one
Editor’s Note: Chris Doyle is the director of the Council for Arab-British Understanding, a London-based NGO. The opinions expressed in this article belong to the author
The blame game started even before the guns fell silent. And now it has reach a crescendo of outrage, as US officials accuse Russia of carrying out an airstrike that hit an aid convoy northwest of Aleppo, destroying 18 out of 31 lorries.
Russia publicly denies it as it must, but if the US is proved to be right, then the message from the Kremlin is clear – we are prepared to do anything and have no red lines.
The tenuous ceasefire in Syria appears to have collapsed following this attack and the earlier one that killed 62 Syrian army soldiers in Deir Azzor.
What are chances of the it being re-imposed? Slim to razor thin. And even if it’s restored, how long would it last? How will aid be delivered into besieged areas such as east Aleppo after this convoy was bombed?
Russia may well revert to its original position that it controls the access of aid through Russian checkpoints, something the United Nations rightly objected to on the grounds that aid should be neutral.
It was the Syrian regime that declared the end of the ceasefire, seemingly all too anxious to begin barrel bombing again. So if there is any chance of the ceasefire returning, it will be Russia and the US that will have to work to save it. You shouldn’t hold your breath.
What matters to Russia is the joint military command with the United States. But it was this that alarmed skeptics in the Pentagon.
In theory, the US and Russia could have been embarking on an unprecedented path of joint military cooperation. This has never happened before. Such joint actions in the theater of war require total trust.
The US, or at least Secretary of State John Kerry, has much invested in this. He knows the time is running down on his time in office and a failure to deliver on Syria would be a deep scar on his record.
The most pressing argument for achieving a genuine ceasefire has nothing to do with these two superpowers. It has to do with a Syrian population that has suffered too much and a country that has been torn apart.
Left to their own devices, without regional interference, there’s every chance that Syrians would at least be talking to each other. Time and time again civilians in Aleppo and other cities damn all of the parties engaged in the war. Conflict fatigue is rampant.
A ceasefire is vital, and any political process must begin with one. As with every ceasefire in Syria – going back to 2012 where around 3,000 lives were saved – the most recent one has induced a considerable drop in fatalities. This is not to be sniffed at, and a reprieve for hundreds and thousands of Syrians is desperately needed.
The ability of the parties to stick to a ceasefire demonstrates a reasonable degree of control over the fighting forces when needed. This is crucial, though far from perfect. Imagine the opposite, with thousands of fighters continuing the mayhem and the Syrian government too weak to control its own forces and militias.
Get our free weekly newsletter
Sadly, another common factor in Syrian ceasefires, both national and local, is that the colossal efforts needed to achieve a halt to hostilities are rarely matched by efforts to maximize ceasefires’ potential and build upon them. In fact, more energy is expended in preparing for the blame game when things go wrong. In a situation where the US and its allies claim one thing and Russia and its allies the opposite, an independent monitoring outfit is essential.
A revised ceasefire deal is required, but one that is designed with intrinsic confidence-building measures to make it sustainable. Aid convoys were languishing at the Turkish border as eastern Aleppo remained besieged. A sizable release of detainees should have been a part of the package.
For this to happen the US must stand up to Russian bullying. It is vital that the Russians are party to a deal but not the basis that they can act as they like in Syria with no repercussions.
The alternative is condemning Syrians to endure another year of bombing and flattening of their country in a vain search for victory, creating an ever more perfect breeding ground for extremists and pushing even more people to flee as refugees.