The latest Syrian ceasefire plan between the United States (US) and Russia that was hoped to form the foundations for an elusive peace deal came to an abrubt and controversial end. Much like previous ceasefires, the latest planquickly unravelled as the regime’s forces and the rebel groups violated the agreements. Consequently, any peace plan excluding any of the major components of the Syrian society, including the Syrian Kurds, will likely fail.
If the latest ceasefire was able to hold for at least a week, the intention was to establish a Russian-US Joint Implementation Centre (JIG) that would see Russia and U.S. in a symbolic coordination of air strikes on Islamic State (IS) and al-Nusra Front targets.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said the joint implementation center would allow Russian and US forces to “separate the terrorists from the moderate opposition”. However, agreement on what the terrorist list would include proved a difficult proposition. Moscow and Damascus have long insisted that all groups taking up arms against the regime are terrorists.
Moreover, groups such as Jabhat Fateh al-Sham, which renamed itself from the al-Nusra Front to distance itself from al-Qaeda, are deeply intertwined with so-called moderates. The task of delineating zones that are permissible for attacks by the new Russian-US command was always going to be challenging.
There are dozens of rebel groups in Syria, and the US will have a difficult job in reigning all these groups, many who are increasingly distrustful of Washington and suspicious about US plans to work directly with the Russians.
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry had stated that if the deal could be implemented it would “provide a turning point, a moment of change.”
But the multi-pronged Syrian war is far from been straightforward. If upholding a ceasefire was difficult enough, then a long-term peace deal after five years of bloodshed is even more challenging.
And one of these vital angles to any ceasefire agreement and any long-term peace deal is the Syrian Kurds amidst Turkish anxiety.
The Syrian landscape was already complex enough before Turkey’s sudden intervention. The Syrian Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) are key allies of the U.S. in the fight against the IS in Syria, but Turkey entered Syria with one eye on IS but with a deeper gaze on pushing back YPG forces that they deem as “terrorists.”
With Turkey venturing deeper into Syria to strike Kurdish positions south of Jarablus, increasing battles between both sides has alarmed the US.
As Russia urged the Kurds and FSA forces to halt fighting, YPG released statements that they intended to abide by the US-Russian ceasefire agreement. This was unlikely to be reciprocal from Ankara for a group that it deems as terrorists, meaning that there is little prospect of any calm between YPG and Turkish-backed forces.
Turkish President, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, recently hit back at recent concerns raised by Washington and some European powers such as Germany over clashes with Kurdish forces.
Erdogan insisted that they would not allow a “terror corridor” on their border and refuted US claims that YPG forces had relocated east of the Euphrates, “we will not believe that the YPG or PYD crossed east of the Euphrates by listening to statements in the US.”
Turkey has stated they are not in Syria for the long haul, but the pro-Turkish Syrian rebels rely heavily on Turkish support to hold gains, making it inevitable that a “safe-zone” will remain in force.
For any real peace agreement in Syria to last, Turkey, Russia and the US must strike a deal on the Kurds. There appears to be a much better platform for a deal on Syria between Ankara and Moscow.
The recent statement from Turkish Prime Minister, Binali Yildrim, who stated that after normalizing ties with Russia and Israel, “Turkey has taken a serious initiative to normalise relations with Syria”, highlights this.
Other than terror corridor referred to by Ankara, Kurds rule large parts of northern Syria which Turkey deems as a “terrorist” zone. It is not clear how Turkey intends to tackle this long-term and if the US and Russia will continue to support the Kurds.
In the multi-pronged and intricate Syrian civil war, the principal elements, including the Kurds, must be appeased before any peace deal or ceasefire could ultimately stick.