Patrick Wintour writes: Labelled an international pariah only months ago by Boris Johnson, and warned he would be stuck in a Syrian quagmire by a patronising Barack Obama, Vladimir Putin ends 2016 if not as the undisputed victor, then at least as the man at the centre of decision making.
It is Moscow and not Washington that is calling the shots in the Middle East.
Reeling from its cold war defeat and the subsequent collapse of the Soviet empire, Moscow was unable to save Yugoslavia from what it termed western aggression.
But in the case of Syria, it can claim it has recovered its self-respect. In the process, it has built a brutal reputation for sticking by its friends, understanding the dynamics of the region better than America, and knowing how to use military power to forge diplomatic alliances.
The US, by contrast, ends 2016 out in the cold, holding a postmortem into the failure of its peace drive with Israel.
Many will rightly warn that experience in Syria shows ceasefires are fragile and do not lead to peace talks, let alone peace deals. But the unlikely Russian-Turkish peace drive has a propitious backdrop.
No single formula or manual exists for ending a civil war. But a sense of futility born of exhaustion, a decisive change in the military balance, a recasting of the key actors and a shift in the diplomatic alliances are all key ingredients, and in the case of the Syrian civil war all four factors exist.
After five years, hundreds of thousands of civilian deaths and the displacement of millions, the Syrian people have experienced the deepest depth of despair. Whatever democratic hopes led to the rebellion, those dreams seem further away than ever. [Continue reading…]
Charles Lister notes: “Although excluded from the negotiations, JFS/AQ [Jabhat Fateh al-Sham, formerly Jabhat al-Nusra] has said behind the scenes that it’ll abide by a ceasefire so long as it exists 100%.”