On the same day that some of Syria’s warring factions attended talks in Geneva, again taking the initiative on Syria, Putin announced that Russia would withdraw some of its forces. This sent a message to the US that Russia will remain central to any deal, to Assad that he will have to compromise as there is a limit to Russian intervention, and to his cash-strapped domestic audience that he is a highly effective foreign policy operator. Will this bring peace to Syria? In the long term, possibly, for having weakened the “moderate” rebels rather than Islamic State (IS), Putin has tempered the West’s resolve to force Assad from power. Yet the sort of peace the West has been arguing for and its Syrian allies have been fighting for is increasingly unlikely to materialise. By reversing the balance of power in Syria’s civil war, Putin has presented the anti-regime negotiators and their Western backers with a Hobson’s choice: accept that Assad’s regime has a future role in government, or receive the blame for the collapse of this round of talks and a return to war.
Kyle Orton, associate fellow at The Henry Jackson Society, says No.
The conditions for peace in Syria do not exist at the present time. The Russian intervention last year was intended to rescue the Assad regime, which was, at the time, suffering serious setbacks, including in its heartland on the coast. The Russians have succeeded. For all of Moscow’s rhetoric about fighting Islamic State (IS), this was never the aim. To the contrary, having IS remain in place is very useful for Assad, because it allows the pretence that Syria is a binary choice between the dictator and the terrorists to perpetuate. Russia even facilitated IS’s expansion by bombing rebels who were holding the terrorist group at bay. The mainstream opposition has been badly weakened by the joint regime-IS attacks, and the set-up of this pretend ceasefire has enabled al-Qaeda to make gains too. Without a concerted effort to bolster the rebellion so that it has meaningful facts-on-the-ground with which to negotiate against Assad, the situation will remain intractable.