This "cessation of hostilities" is incredibly fragileby Martin Fletcher / March 9, 2016 / Leave a comment
Read more: What is Putin’s agenda in Syria and Ukraine?
The cessation of hostilities in Syria that was brokered by the US and Russia and began on 27th February is just about holding. Aid organisations have begun delivering food to besieged and starving communities. In Geneva today talks resume on ending a five-year war that has caused 470,000 deaths, displaced half Syria’s population and reduced many of its cities to rubble (though in practice, not all delegations invited to attend the talks will arrive this week).
All of which begs a question. After so much horror, why is there so little celebration? Why is the reaction so muted? The short answer is because nobody trusts Vladimir Putin, whose ultimate goal is not peace, but to shore up Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s regime, divide Europe and reassert Russia’s influence in the Middle East.
This began as a simple conflict. In 2011 local protests against official corruption and brutality coalesced into a widespread but peaceful uprising led by Syria’s oppressed Sunni majority. The regime responded with force. The West refused to intervene. Other foreign powers had less compunction, and have since turned Syria into a hideously complex tangle of competing international interests and proxy wars.
The first rebel fighters, loosely grouped under the umbrella of the Free Syrian Army, have seen their revolution hijacked by numerous Islamic groups, many backed by Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states, the most powerful and hard line being al-Qaeda’s Syrian franchise Jabhat al-Nusra. The faltering regime has been reinforced by Iranian and Iraqi Shia militias, Hezbollah and—since September—Russian war planes, weaponry and military advisers. The extreme jihadists of Islamic State (IS), who abhor both the rebels and the regime, have exploited the chaos to establish a caliphate straddling the Syrian-Iraqi border.…