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Glimmer of hope

Michael Knigge Kommentarbild App *PROVISORISCH*
Michael Knigge
February 12, 2016

The deal for a cessation of hostilities is vague but also the best hope to end the carnage in Syria. Regardless of whether the agreement becomes reality, one country has shown its strength, writes DW's Michael Knigge.

Syrien Verkäufer im zerstörten Aleppo
Image: Reuters/A. Ismail

Major powers, led by the United States and Russia, agreed to end hostilities in Syria and allow humanitarian access to besieged areas of the country. But, as diplomats said Friday, whether the deal holds is still wide open.

Going into the Syria talks, US Secretary of State John Kerry had demanded an immediate ceasefire while his German colleague Frank-Walter Steinmeier had hoped for a breakthrough. What come out of the negotiations, which lasted far longer than expected, was neither.

Instead the International Syria Support Group (ISSG) agreed to humanitarian access to besieged areas this week and to work out "modalities" for a "nationwide cessation of hostilities" within one week. The latter is the job of a newly formed taskforce jointly led by the United States and Russia.

Details sketchy at best

If this sounds rather vague, that is because it is. The details of how all of this is supposed to happen within such a short time are still sketchy at best. As is the term "cessation of hostilities," a much less defined concept than ceasefire, as Kerry himself acknowledged.

Also unclear is when - and if Russia - will halt its airstrikes, for instance those taking place around Aleppo. An end to bombing will prove to be a key condition to allowing humanitarian aid to be delivered to suffering civilian populations around the country.

Deutsche Welle Michael Knigge
Michael Knigge covers transatlantic relations for Deutsche WelleImage: DW/P. Henriksen

What's more, even if this deal can be translated into reality on the ground, it does not mean, as we have seen in the Ukraine conflict, that it will hold for long or that a sustainable political solution will be reached. In addition, an end of hostilities simply freezes the conflict - and the current power constellation on the ground. That's an unsavory prospect considering not only Syrian ruler Bashar al-Assad but also most other actors in the country.

But even having said all that, the tenuous agreement reached Friday is still the best and only deal around when it comes to trying to end the carnage in Syria. Given the current geopolitical circumstances surrounding the Syrian conflict - with a reluctant US providing ample space that an assertive Russia has been eager to fill - the deal hammered out in a late night session looks like the most realistic option for success.

Whether what has been put on paper will became reality, one party has already scored a big point in Munich: Russia. By co-chairing the taskforce on ending hostilities together with Washington, the Kremlin has achieved what it has always wanted, namely being perceived as an equal to the United States on the international stage, at least when it comes to Syria.

Judging from the outcome of the talks, Washington has accepted that status. Let's hope for the sake of the Syrian people that it is a price worth paying.

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