Chances are if you are a Western media consumer, you might not know that the longest lasting ceasefire in Syria to date has actually been implemented by and upheld by the Russian military since October 19th, 2016. This was the last time the Russian military directly carried out an air strike or military attack within Syria.
The important thing to understand about this particular ceasefire is that, unlike previous ceasefires, which involved multiple countries and factions, this latest ceasefire applies solely to Russia and the Russian military.
What prompted Russia to make this decision?
October 19th was no random date, this was the same day that Vladimir Putin met with German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Francois Hollande in Berlin, Germany, to discuss Russia’s role in the Syrian Civil and the prospects of drafting a new Syrian constitution to put an end to the War.
Today Hollande-Poroshenko-Merkel-Putin meeting on Ukraine and
Hollande-Merkel-Putin on Syria.
— Liveuamap (@Liveuamap) October 19, 2016
Putin to meet Hollande, Merkel over Syria crisis https://t.co/cRrAc0nTjK
— The Times of Israel (@TimesofIsrael) October 18, 2016
However, according to reports from Russia Today, the meetings did not go all too well for the Russian President. Not only was Putin and the Russian military accused of committing “War Crimes” in Syria, but within days after the conclusion of the meeting, Putin went on to issue a travel warnings for the EU, advising Russian citizens against flying into the European Union.
With that said, not all of the news to come out of the meetings was negative. As mentioned in the lead to this article, Russia has upheld their end of the ceasefire agreement and as a result, as reported by The Guardian 10/20/2016, “The EU has pulled back from threatening Russia with immediate sanctions.” However, the EU has threatened that any country, faction or party which violates the ceasefire agreement would “face asset freezes and travel bans.”
Though France and Germany agreed to halt any economic sanctions of their own, Britain did not. Later that same day, on October 10th 2016, Britain made international headlines when it decided to freeze the assets of, and close the bank account belonging to Russia Today in London. This was major news at the time because RT is, of course, one of the worlds largest and more popular news organizations.
— RT (@RT_com) October 17, 2016
A little over a week after these events, after a number of attacks on Russian/Syrian Government forces, Russia Today reported on 10/28/2016 that Vladimir Putin had declined his generals request to lift the ceasefire and carry out air strikes on rebel forces in east Aleppo.
According to the report, Lt. Gen. Sergey Rudskoy, head of operations in the Russian General Staff, said: “Due to the fact that there are still deaths among civilians and that the militants have resumed military activities against government forces, we’ve addressed Russia’s commander-in-chief, asking permission for the resumption of airstrikes targeting illegal armed groups in eastern Aleppo.”
— Conflict News (@Conflicts) October 28, 2016
This exchange is critically important to understand because, at least on the surface, Vladimir Putin was adamant about upholding the Syrian ceasefire in order to ensure that humanitarian aid and supplies were getting to the areas that they were most needed. After being accused of War Crimes in Germany, Putin vowed to uphold Russia’s end of the ceasefire so long as humanitarian aid continued to get delivered and rebel troops were not using the humanitarian window to gain new territory or mobilize ground troops.
To that very point, Russia even agreed to extend the ceasefire after the original deadline had expired. This is when, in a statement with Al-Jazeera on 10/31/16, the same say the original ceasefire was scheduled to end, Russia’s Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Muallem said that “We are still ready to resume this truce, but on the assumption that we will receive a message from those who are the patrons of terrorism with the guarantees that the civilians will have an opportunity to take advantage of this truce.”
However, it was not for no reason that Russian generals were calling for airstrikes just days beforehand. This was because all throughout October while Russian forces were grounded, Syrian rebel troops had continued to violate the terms of the ceasefire by advancing troops in Government held territory and shelling Russian/Syrian Government forces on a near daily basis, despite the fact the Russian military did not return fire. Essentially, Russian generals were calling for airstrikes to resume before rebel forces could occupy any more land.
— RT (@RT_com) October 31, 2016
— RT (@RT_com) October 30, 2016
It is important to note that the actions of Syrian rebels during this ceasefire were condemned by the international community at large, including the same humanitarian groups on the ground in the country trying to deliver aid – such as Amnesty International. Regardless, as reported by Middle East Eye on November 1st 2016, despite offering an extension to the ceasefire just 24 hours beforehand, the Russian military retracted their offer, stating that that the United States has “failed to rein in Syrian rebels” and that as a result, all peace negotiations in Syria were “suspended indefinitely.”
Many people are now fearful for what is to come next. For example, over the same timeline as this ceasefire, despite not firing any shouts, Russia did move the countries only aircraft carrier just off shore of Syria in an effort to assist Russian ground-troops if it was ever needed in the future. Perhaps more significantly, despite agreeing to a temporary ceasefire, Putin did warn Syrian rebels to “evacuate east Aleppo” by 11/4/2016 at the same time.
For those of you whom might be unfamiliar with the situation, you might ask yourself why Putin specifically say “east Aleppo?”
The Tale of Two Cities
Much like East and West Berlin decades ago, Aleppo is a city completely divided. One side of the city maintains some semblance of a normal quality of life and the other side is where you have been seeing all of the destructive coverage from.
East Aleppo: Controlled by rebel forces fighting against Bashar al-Assad and the Syrian government. These rebels are primarily backed/funded by countries like the United States and Saudi Arabia and seek freedom from the Syrian government. Without US and Saudi funding, the rebels would have lost the Civil War many years ago.
West Aleppo: Controlled by Bashar al-Assad and the Syrian government. This side of the city if protected by Russia, Iran and pro-Government forces which are fighting to gain full control of their territory back from rebel control.
As you can clearly see, east Aleppo is in a state of sheer destruction and is widely considered one of the worst humanitarian crisis zones in the entire world. Rebel fighters in east Aleppo refuse to give up and the United States refuses to stop shipping them bombs/guns/weapons for them to continue fighting this War.
The totality of all these events put together, there is growing speculation that Russia may soon make a move to end this conflict once and for all, using a heavy handed approach. It may or may not be speculation to say, but the news coming out of Aleppo might soon be getting much worse before it gets any better. Many people are fearful that Russia has warned citizens to evacuate east Aleppo because the Russian military is preparing a full scale assault upon the area, in an attempt to eliminate the threat there once and for all. Furthermore, now that the ceasefire has ended and rebel forces have continued to violate international law throughout this time, Russia might just feel even more justified in doing so.
This article (As Russia Moves Their Navy Into The Mediterranean Sea, What Implications Does This Have On The Geo-Political Landscape) is free and open source. You have permission to republish this article using a creative commons license with attribution to Brian Dunn and Alternative Medi4