Russia and the United States, and other powers, have agreed in Munich to a temporary cease-fire of hostilities in Syria that will take effect in a week’s time.
It won’t work and here’s why:
- The agreement allows Russia to continue to bomb “terrorists”. This is what Russia has claimed to do in the past as well. It is hard to see why the future should be different from the past. Furthermore, Russia can always claim that it has only little leverage over Assad; the Assad regime is not party to the agreement. Not surprisingly, Assad has on the day after the agreement announced his intention to retake the whole country.
- In the Ukraine conflict, diplomacy done on the level of foreign ministers has proved largely irrelevant—only when leaders met could agreement be reached (Minsk). If there were a serious chance for a serious deal now, it would have been agreed between Putin and Obama and perhaps European leaders, not just between foreign ministers.
- The cease-fire agreement was announced just before the speech of Russian Prime Minister Medvedev at the Munich Security Conference. Syria is at the center of the conference agenda. The new cease-fire agreement will now give the false impression that Russia has moved from a destructive to a constructive player, a partner for peace. It sets the stage for a speech by Medvedev aimed to weaken Western determination to counter Russian aggression.
- The Kremlin’s promises have not been reliable in recent years. There is little reason for the West to trust Russia’s leaders who have lied repeatedly to their Western counterparts. And there’s no reason to believe it will be different this time.
Given these realities, it is likely that this agreement is just another “hybrid” tool (hybrid diplomacy) in the Kremlin’s larger crusade against the West and against Western influence. The goal of the cease-fire is very likely to confuse the West about Russia’s actions and intentions in Syria, to break Western unity, and by doing so, to attack the West’s political will to counter the Kremlin’s plans in Syria, in Ukraine and elsewhere.