On Saturday, September 10, between Geneva and Munich, the traditional venues for the numberless negotiations on war in Syria, the US State Secretary, John Kerry, and the Russian Foreign Minister, Serghei Lavrov, reached an agreement for truce among the various factions fighting for the spoils of the Middle East State.
The agreement will enter into force as from the sunset of September 12 and it will last one week only.
Who is concerned by the ceasefire? First and foremost Assad’s forces, namely the Syrian Arab Army, including its Russian and Iranian allies and the various groups of the Syrian Free Army, of which it is impossible to know the real size of its forces and its inconstant relationship with the other movements of the Syrian jihad.
Hence the agreement regards neither Daesh-Isis nor the militia of Fateh al-Sham, the new name chosen by the Al Nusra Front to distance itself from Al Qaeda as much as possible.
The hostilities will cease especially in the Aleppo area which, for everybody, is the key to the Syrian strategy, with a view to allowing the inflow of supplies, aid and relief to the local populations, hardly hit by both opponents’ actions.
It is worth recalling that so far the war in Syria has had a toll of 350,000 deaths and 11 million refugees, namely 50% of the Syrian population.
The essential political result of the September negotiations is – first and foremost – that the removal of the “tyrant” Bashar al-Assad from power is no longer on the agenda.
In fact, Assad is probably the only one who can keep Syria united – hence he is a necessary and valuable asset for Russia.
Conversely, in one way or another, all the Western countries involved in the conflict are interested in Syria’s splitting up and fragmentation.
Following its neo-Ottoman dream, Turkey wants to annex the Syrian Sunni area, also with a view to counterbalancing the Kurds’ influence both in Syria and on its own territory, by separating them with an enclave controlled by it.
Rojava (the West or Western Kurdistan in the Kurdish language) consisting of three self-governing cantons, namely Afrin, Jazira e Kobani, as well as the Shahba region, are located in the Syrian al-Hasakah Governorate. It is worth noting that the tree Kurdish cantons are multiethnic.
Obviously the Kurdish presence is the real target of the Turkish operations.
Shortly before the ceasefire, Turkey had deployed 43 self-supporting units and at least 200 soldiers, in addition to those of the Turkish garrison, in Gaziantep.
Shortly afterwards the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) started clashes with the Turkish forces in the Hatay Province.
Moreover no maps of Turkey’s operation “Euphrates Shield” are available and, at the same time, Isis demobilized its elite militants from the Al-Bab region, in the North-East province of Aleppo. Therefore we can predict a future jihadists’ counterattack from the South
The real aim of the Operation Euphrates Shield is to create a “safety area” for Turkey (90 kilometres long and 40 kilometres wide), with a view to avoiding the connection between the Kurds of Rojava and those in Turkey, as well as to definitely breaking Syria’s unity, which means creating strategic continuity between Anatolia and the Sunni Islam of Central Asia.
The United States want to “bring democracy” to Syria and intend to keep on controlling the areas held by their allies of the Syrian Free Army, the well-known “moderate” jihadists.
Without admitting so, also the United States want Syria’s splitting up and fragmentation so as to implement the unfortunate “Yugoslav model” also there, by creating ethnical statelets which – as happened in Kosovo – may possibly become recruiting centres for the jihad in the coming years or centres for managing drug trafficking.
Finally Russia wants a sufficiently united State which can protect the Alawite coastal territory where its naval bases in the Mediterranean are located.
Moreover Iran wants Syria to be a united State, under the leadership of the Alawites, who are Shias – as Imam Mussa Sadr established – which can be a bulwark against the Sunni Turkey and the destabilization trends from Saudi Arabia.
Hence the political and strategic sense is that – once the one-week truce is over – the United States and the Russian Federation should be reunited to fight against Isis-Daesh and Fateh al-Sham, namely the new Al Nusra “brand”.
As envisaged by the agreement of September 10, Assad’s forces should stop bombings “wherever the other forces are present” so as to allow the arrival of humanitarian aid in Aleppo.
Furthermore, the priority for the inflow of aid will be the city of Aleppo and its surroundings, in addition to the areas which are “hard to be reached”.
Again according to the agreement of September 10, both Assad’s forces and the “rebel” ones should leave Castello Road, which runs throughout the centre of Aleppo from the North of the city to the Eastern area, still held by the “rebels” of Jaish al Fateh and Isis-Daesh.
Also a part of the Kurdish YPG is present along the Aleppo road, which is currently monitored by the Russian soldiers.
There must also be a “secure access” to the area of Ramouseh and, if there will be seven consecutive days of successful truce, even partially, the United States and Russia will operate together to “develop military actions” (sic) against Fateh al Sham and Isis.
At the regular end of the ceasefire, a Joint Implementation Centre will be established to exchange the information required for military activities, but the problem is that the United States will continue to support the “rebels” close or allied to Jaish Al Fateh and that Russia shall convince its ally Assad to stop bombing the cities.
However, if the ceasefire is successful, all the forces whose territory borders on the “Islamic State” can concentrate their forces only against Isis. This will generate a sort of competition between allies, at least as regards the fight against Al Baghdadi’s Caliphate.
Furthermore, a few days before the deal, two “rebel” groups – both supported by the United States – clashed with each other in Jarabulus, north of Aleppo, namely Jaish al Tahrir and the Syrian Democratic Forces.
Hence the situation of military power relations in Syria just before the ceasefire was complex: on September 4, Assad’s forces started again the siege of Aleppo while, on September 5, Isis initiated a series of suicide attacks in Tartous, Homs and Damascus, as well as on the YPG Kurdish positions in Qamishli and Hasaka.
The Isis attack came just a few hours after the elimination of the Caliphate – along the Turkish-Syrian border, in the Aleppo area – by the Turkish Armed Forces and their jihadists of reference, namely the Turkmen.
A military success which was evidently the harbinger of the deal under discussion between Russia and the United States.
It is therefore likely for Isis to seek a new expansion in Western Syria, pending the ceasefire.
However, the deal reached on September 10 is very hard to be maintained.
The agreement is undoubtedly a success of Russian diplomacy, as both President Obama and part of the Pentagon and CIA did not want to acknowledge any role for Bashar al-Assad, while now – at least figuratively – they have sat at the same negotiating table as Syria’s emissaries.
The obsession of President Obama and much of the Pentagon was “Assad must go!”, as if the fall of a “tyrant” could magically change the political balance of a whole country.
The same mistake made with Saddam Hussein in Iraq and with the old “democratic” President, Hamid Karzai, in Afghanistan.
Certainly, if the two major powers on the ground really join, the end of Isis will be a matter of weeks, if not days.
But many ceasefires are “in water writ” and that of September 10 is no exception to the rule.
The Russian Aerospace Defence Forces have continued to hit jihadist targets despite the truce and the coordination center between the United States and Russia, envisaged by the deal, has not yet been definitively put in place to operate. It cannot certainly be created magically from nothing at the end of the fateful one-week truce.
On September 13 the parties exchanged artillery fire in the Aleppo area, while Bashar al-Assad’ Syrian Arab Army and the Hezbollah engaged combat with Jaish al Fateh in the aeras of Qarassi, Zeitan, Khan Touman and Khalsah.
Jaish al Fateh responded by hitting Assad’s outposts in the Malah Farms and the Ramouseh Artillery Base.
On September 12, all Jaish al Fateh forces stated they did not accept the ceasefire because their leaders had not been called to discuss the document and hence their role as primary group of “resistance” to Assad had not been recognized.
The following day, at least according to their sources, the air forces of the Syrian Arab Army shot down an Israeli jet and a drone near Quneitra, but Israel denied it.
However what is the strategic significance of the ceasefire, apart from the repositioning on the battlefield?
Russia emerges as the true leader of the future in Syria. The United States operate with their Turkish allies in the North, but this is an anti-Kurdish operation and the various Kurdish militias are US allies.
Shortly a clash will be recreated between both factions backed by the United States, which evidently have no strategy whatsoever in Syria except for the stale and impossible “exporting of democracy.”
Maybe the ceasefire will hold, but later the Syrian crisis will remain stable, with tensions on the Euphrates, the Kurdish reaction, the backlash of the Iranian Shiite units and the Russian raids.
The Western forces have no strategic project and therefore Russia – and hence Bashar al-Assad – will win because it has one, but after unimaginable ruins and the creation of a flow of migrants to the EU that will be very difficult to manage.
GIANCARLO ELIA VALORI
Honorable de l’Académie des Sciences de l’Institut de France