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President Putin meeting with Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu. Kremlin

Russia calls the shots after truce in Syria

Moscow, and not Washington, is calling the shots in the Middle East after the announcement of a ceasefire in Syria.

Published: December 30, 2016, 8:51 am

    Russia and Turkey have acted without the West in establishing a truce in the war-torn country.

    Crucial to this agreement is that it does not include jihadist groups, an ongoing point of friction between Russia and the United States who repeatedly tried and failed to broker such an agreement earlier this year.

    The conditions of the peace negotiations to be held in Astana, Kazakhstan, are currently being discussed. President Vladimir Putin has confirmed that the ceasefire in Syria negotiated by Turkey and Russia is now formally in place.

    The Russian president added: “This agreement we’ve reached is very fragile, as we all understand. It requires special attention and patience, professional attitude, and constant contact with our partners.”

    Earlier on Thursday, the Russian president announced that agreements had been reached on a ceasefire in Syria and readiness to start peace talks. Three documents have been signed. The first document concerning the cessation of hostilities was signed by the Syrian government and the armed opposition. The second document is a package of measures to monitor the ceasefire, while the third one is a statement of readiness to start peace talks.

    Meanwhile the Syrian military command announced it would halt all combat actions throughout the country’s territory from midnight local time. Details of the ceasefire agreement have been provided by the Al-Masdar news agency, which is known to have sources within the Syrian military.

    Members of the UN Security Council are to convene for a closed meeting initiated by Russia to discuss the ceasefire brokered for Syria by Turkey and Russia that took effect at 12:00am on Friday, a diplomatic UN source said.

    “Russia requested this meeting. It is expected to focus on the ceasefire announced in Syria,” a diplomatic source at the UN headquarters told TASS news agency.

    Al-Masdar’s report represents a radical shift noted in the position held by the Turkish government. As Al-Masdar noted earlier, Turkey “facilitated the entry of these Jihadist groups in Syria”. But by sponsoring this agreement with the Islamic Republic of Iran, Turkey – the NATO member – has effectively renounced on its ambition to be further integrated into the alliance.

    The deal obligates some 60 000 militants, as well as the Syrian government and allied militias, to observe the ceasefire. Russia and Turkey are listed as guarantors to the deal.

    The Syrian state news agency SANA, said the agreement excluded foreign sponsored militants such as the Islamic State, Jabhat Fateh al-Sham, the group formerly known as al-Nusra Front, and “groups linked to them”.

    Iran and Egypt will be involved in these negotiations and the United States will be able to join them only once President-elect Donald Trump takes up his position on January 20, 2017. Saudi Arabia, Iraq, and Jordan are not part of the negociations either.

    Earlier this month, Qatar, another sponsor of anti-Assad forces, withdrew from the war with Syria after reaching a deal with Rosneft, the largest company in the world, thereby linking its energy policy to Russia.

    karin@praag.org

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