By Saagar Enjeti
The Syrian regime announced a Russian and Turkish-brokered ceasefire agreement Thursday, the first such agreement not involving the U.S.
The ceasefire will reportedly begin at midnight and includes seven Syrian rebels groups, along with Turkey. The ceasefire framework commits all parties to begin peace talks in Kazakhstan if the truce holds for one month. The deal could mark a turning point in the nearly five-year civil war, and put all parties on a path towards peace.
The negotiations framework includes Russia, Turkey and Iran. Russian diplomats indicated Wednesday they are discussing dividing Syria into 3 autonomous sub-states. The lack of a U.S. role in the ceasefire or beginning framework of the talks is a significant embarrassment to the Obama administration.
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry repeatedly tried to get Russia and Syria to agree to a ceasefire, and a pathway to peace talks. At nearly every instance the peace process broke down, and both Russia and Syria continued their brutal campaign for the city of Aleppo. Aleppo, the largest city inside Syria, is now in the hands of the Assad regime and was a significant victory for Russian forces.
The three proposed sub-states would be regionally autonomous and nominally remain under the power of a federal administrative system. This federal system would retain Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad in the beginning, before a less divisive figure took the helm. Assad’s religious sect, Shiite Alawites, would remain in charge of the federal system and have their own zone of influence under the terms of the deal.
Russia reportedly does not plan on involving the U.S. and its allies until the later stages of the talks.
“It’s a very big prize for them if they can show they’re out there in front changing the world,” the UK’s former ambassador to Moscow told Reuters. “We’ve all grown used to the United States doing that and had rather forgotten that Russia used to play at the same level,” he continued.