It’s raining ceasefires

We’re now two days into the Syrian ceasefire, and despite a few reports of violations, overall the deal seems to be holding together. However, the ceasefire wasn’t the goal so much as the means to achieve the goal, which is the alleviation of Syrian suffering. And in that regard there already appear to be some problems:

Residents of eastern Aleppo are reported to be in desperate need of fuel, flour, wheat, baby formula and medicines.

Two convoys of lorries carrying aid crossed into Syria about 40km (25 miles) west of Aleppo on Tuesday but were not allowed to go much further, Reuters reports.

One issue holding back aid deliveries is that al-Qaeda affiliates operate in the area, which may mean the main route into Aleppo is not yet safe, the BBC’s James Longman in Beirut says.

Lorries carrying Russian aid, however, have reached government-held areas of Homs province.

Aid reaching beleaguered government-held areas but not beleaguered rebel-held areas? This is not going to do much to alleviate the copious reservations many observers have about Bashar al-Assad’s willingness to actually go along with the ceasefire agreement. But then, to be fair, there’s no indication that the rebels plan on abiding by the agreement either. Such is the problem when the U.S. and Russia get together and cut a deal that mostly imposes upon other actors who had no input into the process. I talked about this at LobeLog yesterday:

As others have noted, perhaps the most jarring aspect of this attempted ceasefire is that it was negotiated entirely between Moscow and Washington, yet most of its terms apply to other parties. The United States will continue its anti-IS and anti-JFS air campaign virtually unchanged. Although Russia may have to be more circumspect about targeting JFS and not other rebel forces, the onus appears to be on the rebels to get out of the way of any strikes meant for JFS. Russia is expected to force Assad to abide by the agreement, while the U.S. is expected to bring its allied rebel forces along. But neither Assad nor the rebel leadership has yet expressed unqualified support for the deal.

It’s not clear what happens if either, or both, Russia and the U.S. fail to cajole their allies into compliance, for the agreement lacks any explicit enforcement mechanism should either Assad or the rebels violate the term. During a public appearance on Monday in which he made Eid prayers at a mosque in the recently captured Damascene suburb of Daraya, Assad told reporters that “the Syrian state is determined to recover every area from the terrorists.” He reportedly made no mention of the ceasefire. Assad’s remarks are similar to ones he made in February amid negotiations on a similar nationwide ceasefire. That ceasefire ultimately broke down.

If humanitarian aid doesn’t start reaching people in eastern Aleppo very soon, you’ll know that this ceasefire won’t last much longer than a few days. If it does start reaching eastern Aleppo in the next day or so, then…well, I give the ceasefire about a month. I particularly can’t foresee the rebels divesting themselves of Jabhat Fatah al-Sham such that they won’t be affected when Russian airstrikes hit JFS positions. There’s no upside for the rebels to separate from JFS, in part because the US hasn’t provided one. That challenge by itself is enough to sink, eventually, this attempt at a settlement. Please prove me wrong, everybody.

The Syrian ceasefire deal came at the conclusion of weeks of “will they, won’t they” diplomacy between John Kerry and Sergey Lavrov, so it wasn’t entirely unexpected even if its successful conclusion was still a little surprising. On the other hand, yesterday something happened that was kind of unexpected:

Russian-backed separatists in eastern Ukraine announced a unilateral cease-fire Tuesday, the first to be proposed by rebel groups since violent conflict began in that country in 2014.

Alexander Zakharchenko, a Ukrainian separatist leader and the head of the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic, told Russian television the cease-fire would go into effect on Wednesday at midnight local time. Zakharchenko said his troops would cease military operations at that time, and called on the Ukrainian military to do the same. If successful, it could bring a pause to the two-year conflict that has killed at least 9,500 people.

Kiev reportedly announced today that it accepted the ceasefire, which is supposed to go into effect at midnight. This ceasefire renews a ceasefire that went into effect on September 1, the first day of school in Ukraine, but that had started to fall apart in the past couple of days. Ukraine is supposed to be under a more comprehensive ceasefire imposed by the Minsk agreement reached between Kiev and the rebels last February, but low-level fighting has continued to break out periodically.

It’s not clear there’s a connection, but Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko said last week that, while parliament is expected to vote soon on a constitutional amendment that would devolve more power to Ukraine’s regional governments (something the Donbas rebels say they want), he would not proceed with decentralizing reforms until there is a sustained ceasefire that includes the withdrawal of Russian assets from eastern Ukraine and a return of control over the Ukraine-Russia border to Kiev. Maybe the rebels got the message.


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