After Vladimir Putin’s announcement about the end of the Russian mission in Syria, which has been spread this morning, the first aircrafts have left military bases. It was reported by the Russian Ministry of Defence, which has explained that first group of Russian bombers and transport aircraft is on its way back home. Putin gave the green light to the withdrawal in order to facilitate the negotiations between the government and the opposition, which have been resumed in Geneva. UN Special Envoy, Staffan de Mistura, described this dialogue as “the moment of truth”, whereas the ceasefire has been announced unexpectedly on the seventeenth day.
The White House declared that Barack Obama and Putin had a phone conversation last night. They discussed the withdrawal and “the next steps that are necessary” to put an end to hostility. The head of the Kremlin, quoted by Russian news agencies, said that “the Russian Forces achieved their goals” and have “created the proper conditions to start the peace process”. Now, their withdrawal can become “a good reason to open political negotiations between the forces of the country.” Putin informed Syrian President Bashar al Assad about his decision on the phone – the Kremlin says – and ensured him that he “is ready to start the political process as soon as possible”.
From Damascus they said that the two leaders fully agreed on Russia’s decision, whereas the Syrian opposition opened to Putin’s announcement, saying that “if there is will to withdraw, it may give an input to peace talks.” Also the White House’s press release, which followed the phone call between the two leaders, mentions ‘the goal to move forwards with political negotiations on the resolution of the conflict’. It also stresses that ‘Obama has pointed out that political transition is needed.”
Yet, there are still doubts about the meaning of the decision taken by the ‘czar’. Firstly, because Moscow has never admitted the deployment of its troops on the ground, but only that of air forces engaged in raids since September 30 last year, whose goal has been always presented as fight against terrorism. And Isis, which is excluded from the ceasefire in force since February 27, still control vast regions, including that of Palmira, where government forces are advancing exactly thanks to the support of the Russian bombings. Secondly, the Russian airport in Hemeimeem, Latakia province, from which the raids depart, and the Tartus naval base will be kept operative.
A delegation of the Syrian regime met de Mistura in Geneva on the first day of the new round of negotiations. The Government and the opposition reached the Swiss city to resume separately the talks with the UN envoy, which had been suspended on February 3 because of the government’s offensive in the north, supported by massive Russian bombardment. “There is no ‘plan B’ – de Mistura has warned -. If negotiations fail, it will be a return to war, which will be worse than before. “But there is a long and bumpy to go because, de Mistura stressed again, “the real issue we need to address, the mother of all other issues, is political transition”. And on that questions, positions are still very distant.
In the meantime, the efforts of humanitarian organizations continue and bring relief to the besieged populations, taking advantage of the cessation of hostilities. Today, in a joint statement the main United Nations agencies and their partners have said they have not been able to reach not even 20 percent of the affected civilians, whereas opinions on the data are conflicting. According to the UN, there are about half a million inhabitants in the besieged areas, while Doctors Without Borders say there are 1.9 million people. Children are those who suffer most severely, according to a UNICEF report: 8.4 million of them, that is, 80%, have been affected in some way by the conflict. Seven million live in poverty, while 3.7 million were born after the beginning of the war, which is the only reality they have ever known.
After the first meeting with de Mistura, Syrian Ambassador to the UN, Bashar Jaafari, who leads the delegation from Damascus, said that the meeting had been “positive and constructive” and that the two sides will meet each other again on Wednesday. Today, the UN representative will meet the opposition delegation, called High Negotiations Committee (Hnc). Yet, no one conceals the fact that the reef which risks to break the negotiations is Assad’s role in the country’s future. Not by chance, Putin and the Libyan leader did not touch on that subject during their phone conversation. De Mistura stressed the need to hold presidential elections within the next 18 months.
The opposition demand the resignation of the head of the regime, while the government delegation reiterates that the negotiations have to proceed without “preconditions”. Besides, the negotiating process is hindered by the absence of the Kurdish forces, which control vast areas in northern Syria, whose presence at the negotiating table was vainly asked by Russia.