Syria: A Tactical—Not Strategic—Ceasefire

By Fabrice Balanche

Fabrice Balanche, an associate professor and research director at the University of Lyon 2, is a visiting fellow at The Hoover Institution. Balanche, who also directs the Research Group on the Mediterranean and the Middle East (GREMMO), has spent ten years in Lebanon and Syria, his main areas of study, since first engaging in fieldwork in the region in 1990. Today, he is frequently called upon as an expert consultant on Middle East development issues and the Syrian crisis. His publications include "Geopolitics of the Middle East," "Atlas of the Arab Near East," and the book version of his thesis, "The Alawite Region and Syrian Power." Balanche holds a doctorate in geography from the University of Tours (2000).

The agreement between Turkey and Russia stipulates a halt to the fighting throughout Syrian territory from midnight on December 29, with the exception of areas with a Fatah al-Sham (formerly the al-Nusra Front) or Islamic State presence. In addition, the agreement provides for President Bashar al-Assad to remain in power until the end of his presidential term in June 2021. The other actors in the conflict (USA and Arab Gulf countries) and the entire Syrian opposition are invited to join the negotiations to be held in Astana, Kazakhstan planned for next month.

The UN, the United States, and even the opposition umbrella Syrian National Coalition welcomed the agreement. But make no mistake; the inclusion of Bashar el Assad’s eventual departure is only a simple way of attracting the Syrian opposition to the negotiating table while allowing the Western and Gulf countries to save face by adhering to this peace process. What guarantees can Russia give on Bashar el Assad’s departure in 2021?

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