Russia has begun to withdraw its military forces from conflict areas in Syria, starting with the aircraft carrier groups. Since 2015, Russia was committed to carrying out airstrikes on Syrian opposition groups to aid President Assad and his government. Russian President Vladimir Putin stated that the airstrikes were preventative measures in order to destroy the Islamic State and other terrorist organizations that occupied Syrian territories. The force’s withdrawals were ordered by President Putin on December 29th and a reduction of deployment to Syria has been initiated. The announcement was made days after the Syrian government successfully recaptured Aleppo from the rebel groups.
Evidently, it was Russia’s airstrike campaign that made a significant role in helping the Assad regime to gain back control in key area of Syria. The withdrawal of Russian forces suggests that peace negotiations could start in Kazakhstan. This is also the chance for the Kremlin to push to developing integrated policies with the Assad government over their victory on claiming Aleppo. The upcoming peace talks, with Turkey, Iran, and Russia, will focus on generating solutions on stabilizing the increased flow of migrants escaping the conflicts zones. However, the United Nations have addressed a number of concerns on the ceasefire and whether it can hold long enough to reach peace negotiations between both sides.
For starters, the UN has addressed concerns for the continuous fighting that is occurring in rural areas that are surrounding Damascus. Civilian populations are still vulnerable to being targeted by on-going airstrikes and are being denied access to leave the conflicted battlegrounds. UN special envoy personnel have suggested that any peace negotiations that are going to be held in Kazakhstan need to be continued in Geneva to ensure wider international support.
Before any peace talks could arrive in Geneva, both parties need to be able to uphold their role in securing the ceasefire until the Astana Convention in Kazakhstan. However, rebel groups have criticized the Assad regime for continuing to violate human right laws and the ceasefire agreements. It has been made clear that boycotting the peace talks is a possibility if the violations committed by the Syrian government continue to escalate. Most notably, the northern region of the Idlib province is in jeopardy of violence intensifying. President Assad has denied the accusation and instead blames the persistent violence on behalf of the rebels. Assad announced that his forces were ready to go into battle again with the opposition groups if any hostile behaviour surfaces.
Furthermore, the rebel groups have claimed that the Assad regime has launched attacks in the Barada Valley, north of Damascus. This is especially troubling due to water supplies being stored in that region, which could affect the population living in the capital. However, UN humanitarian personnel said that it is difficult to determine whether to hold the Syrian government and their allies accountable for damaging water resources or if it was the opposition retaliation. The blame trading game between both sides has only prolonged any processes of addressing the possible contamination of the water. As days go by, the scarcity of water is becoming the growing fear in Damascus, with many concerned about the children being at great risk of waterborne diseases.
Instead of taking responsibility, it seems that Russia and Syria are only concerned about achieving diplomatic advantages, and any efforts to counter the on-going assaults has been sidelined. Russia’s main focus, after removing its troops, is to reshape its relationship with other Middle Eastern states, particularly Turkey, Israel, and Iran. Russia has willingly cooperated with Turkey and Iran to generate a ceasefire, which will, hopefully, lead to promoting peace talks down the line. For Israel, Russia remained confident that their air campaign would not interfere with any Israeli air operations against the Hezbollah militant organization. But, perhaps, the most significant diplomatic advantage for Russia has to be keeping the United States out of the negotiating talks. Russia’s influence in the Syrian government, as well as its role in commencing peace talks, has made the U.S. have to readjust their approach to intervene in the Syrian conflict. With that said, any efforts made by the U.S. from this moment onwards needs to start with some kind of relationship with Russia, or possibly, a partnership.
Any sort of partnership between the U.S. and Russia needs to happen quickly. If Russia continues to back Assad’s battle against the opposition, while Assad persistently denies any involvement in the Barada Valley assaults, the likelihood for rebels to boycott the peace talks will increase and take the process to secure peace too many steps backwards.
Lister, Tim. “Syria: What it will mean if rebels snub peace talks.” CNN, January 3, 2017. Accessed January 8, 2017.
Mackintosh, Eliza. “Water is the latest battleground in Syria.” CNN, January 3, 2017. Accessed January 8, 2017.
Marcus, Jonathan. “Syria war: How Moscow’s bombing campaign has paid off for Putin.” BBC News, September 30, 2016. Accessed January 8, 2017.
Smith-Spark, Laura and Pleitgen, Frederik. “Russia ‘starts to withdraw’ forces from Syria.” CNN, January 6, 2017. Accessed January 6, 2017.
“Syria conflict: Russia ‘withdrawing aircraft carrier group’.” BBC News, January 6, 2017. Accessed January 6, 2017.
Wintour, Patrick. “Russia begins military withdrawal from Syria.” The Guardian, January 6, 2017. Accessed January 7, 2017.
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