By Frederick W. Kagan and Kimberly Kagan
The Syrian ceasefire agreement of February 11 is a big win for the Russians and the Syrian regime. Russia, Iran, and Syria are in the midst of a major military offensive that has allowed them to besiege Aleppo and has them poised to make gains across the battlefield. This so-called “cessation of hostilities” agreement allows them to consolidate and prepare for further advances while preventing the opposition that the U.S. ostensibly supports from attempting to undo any of their gains. It does not require the Assad coalition to allow humanitarian access to the hundreds of thousands they have just trapped in and around Aleppo itself, and it leaves them fully in control of what humanitarian aid goes to the other areas they themselves are besieging and deliberately starving. It was concluded without the participation of the opposition, and is thus an imposition of a truce on the fighters the U.S. is theoretically supporting at a moment when they have lost vital ground.
The Russians, moreover, define all of the opposition groups in northern Syria as either ISIS or Jabhat al Nusra. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said today, “if liberation of the city that has been taken by illegal armed groups can be qualified as aggression, then, well, yeah, probably. But to attack those who have taken your land is necessary – is a necessary thing. First of all, this has been done by Jabhat al-Nusra, and also the western suburbs of Aleppo are still being controlled together with Jabhat al-Nusra by Jaysh al-Islam and Ahrar al-Sham.” The Russians will read this agreement to let them continue operations against all opposition groups in Aleppo and to continue their encirclement, siege, and targeting of that city. They will therefore continue to weaken the non-Jabhat al Nusra, non-ISIS opposition now concentrated in Aleppo and likely strengthen the hands of the terrorist organizations they purport to be attacking.
This “cessation of hostilities” also continues the policy of requiring the opposition to make concessions in order to get the regime temporarily to stop committing what the UN has called crimes against humanity.
This agreement is a ceasefire in the manner of the Minsk agreements that have shaped the supposed ceasefires in Ukraine--ceasefires that have been nominally in effect throughout all of the major Russian and separatist military offensives since February 2015. The Russians posed as a neutral third party when in fact they are a belligerent in the conflict, and have continued to escalate and de-escalate military operations in Ukraine in order to extract concessions from the Ukrainian government. Not only will this Syrian “cessation of hostilities” also fail, but it will fail in a way that further alienates the non-ISIS, non-al Qaeda Sunni opposition groups and populations on which any meaningful political settlement of the conflict in accord with America's vital national security interests must rely.