Putin announces a cease-fire agreement between Damascus and the rebels
The Russian President confirms that the Syrian regime and the armed opposition have reached an agreement. Three documents were signed with a truce taking effect at midnight tonight over the “entire territory." The Islamic State and other Jihadi groups are excluded. Moscow and Ankara reiterate peace talks in Astana, but Assad’s future remains the Gordian knot.
Damascus (AsiaNews/Agencies) – Russian President Vladimir Putin today announced a cease-fire agreement between the Government of Syria and armed opposition groups.
"Three documents have been signed," said Putin, the first of which is between the “Syrian government and the armed opposition" over "entire territory" of Syria. The Russian leader specified that two other documents concern peace talks scheduled for the coming weeks.
The Syrian army also announced a “total end of military operations," starting midnight tonight. However, the truce does not cover the Islamic State and other jihadist groups, including the ex al-Nusra Front.
Turkey and Russia have been working for some time on a countrywide ceasefire in Syria before the start of the new year, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said Thursday, but none of the key players in the conflict offered an immediate confirmation.
The ceasefire could be in place "at any moment", Cavusoglu said a few hours before Putin’s announcement. Until now the two countries were on opposite sides in the five-year conflict.
The minister said that if the ceasefire was successful, political negotiations between Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's regime and the opposition would take place in the Kazakh capital Astana.
But he insisted that the Astana talks, overseen by Turkey and Russia, were not a rival to UN-backed talks that have been taking place on-and-off in Geneva in recent years.
the latter have failed so far to produce any result in a war that has caused hundreds of thousands of deaths and millions of displaced people, creating a serious humanitarian crisis.
"This is not an alternative to Geneva. It is a complementary step," said Cavusoglu. "The talks in Astana will be under our supervision," he added, noting that which groups will take part remains under discussion.
In spite of the nice diplomatic words, it is increasingly clear that an attempt is underway to shift the centre of gravity of the Syrian conflict from Europe (and the United States) to the East, to the heart of Asia.
In this interplay of talks and alliances, Russia will act as "guarantor" for the Syrian government, whilst Turkey will play the same role for the rebels.
This is a further step forward in diplomatic and strategic rapprochement between Moscow and Ankara, after a period of tensions followed the downing of a Russian fighter on the border between Turkey and Syria in November last year.
Cease-fire conditions must be submitted to the warring parties, but "terrorist groups" are excluded, the Turkish news agency said.
Russian sources confirmed Moscow’s intention to cooperate with Turkish authorities for a lasting peace in Syria, the details of which should be discussed at the meeting in Astana.
Iran, an ally of Syrian President Assad, will be present at the talks. However, Tehran has vetoed the participation of Saudi Arabia and Qatar (which are close to the opposition and rebel groups, including some Jihadi militias).
Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan said the talks should include Saudi Arabia and Qatar, because they have "shown goodwill and given support" to Syria.
For Iranian Defense Minister Hossein Dehghan, Saudi Arabia should be excluded from the peace talks because of its insistence that Assad step down, and be excluded from the country’s political transition.
For Tehran, Assad is the legitimate president and must be able to participate in the next elections if he wants to.