After two days of failed negotiations and immense pressure on Russia, the United Nations Security Council unanimously approved a resolution calling for a 30-day cease-fire in Syria, following a week of intense bombardment of the Eastern Ghouta rebel enclave by the Syrian government. The bombardment has seen numerous civilian casualties in what some are calling one of the bloodiest periods of the Syrian civil war with many comparing the destruction to the infamous Srebrenica massacre in 1995.
Russia was initially reluctant to back the ceasefire, a move which critics said allowed Russia’s ally, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, to pursue his bombing campaign. Moscow had already blocked 11 previous resolutions regarding the Syrian Civil War. The past two days have seen Russia attempt to push back, delay or soften the terms of the resolution with tense negotiations at the last minute over the final text. Eventually, however, Russia was persuaded not to use its veto and has backed the resolution’s call for the nationwide truce to commence without delay.
The unanimous resolution is a diplomatic victory for the USA and the other members of the 15-strong council, showing that they have been able to resist pressure or influence from Moscow, at a time when Russia’s increasingly aggressive expansionist stance has unsettled many world leaders. As Syria’s ally, Russia is now expected to lean on Bashar al-Assad to accept the ceasefire and let foodstuffs and medical supplies enter Eastern Ghouta.
The bigger question is whether the ceasefire might lead to future attempts at negotiations, but few are convinced. Bashar al-Assad has made it clear that he intends to seek a complete military victory rather than a diplomatic settlement. His attack on Eastern Ghouta is part of a wider attempt to regain control of his country, but the efforts have spiraled into a humanitarian crisis with over 500 civilians killed in one day.
Eastern Ghouta is a key area for both sides. The Syrian government claims that the rebel enclave endangers the capital of Damascus, being close enough for rebels to fire mortars into the heart of the city. Once known as the breadbasket of Damascus, the civil war has reduced it to a ruin, much like the rest of the country.
Russia, as one of Bashar al-Assad’s closest allies, has been using the war to its own ends, seeking to maintain a foothold in the Middle East and, if reports are to be believed, using it as practice for its own forces. One could almost call it the Russian version of Iraq although Putin has been trying to disentangle his forces from the quagmire.
After 7 years of nearly endless conflict and with much of the country still in turmoil, the United Nations has a much bigger issue on how to respond to the Syrian crisis more effectively, balancing the demands of the international community with the reality on the ground and the deep divisions within the country and between the superpowers overseeing the carnage.
The resolution is a step in the right direction, showing that even Russia has to answer to the international community and can be brought to heel. It is not much, but right now, anything is better than nothing.
Even so, the Syrian people face a long, difficult road before they finally achieve peace. Until that day, the bloodshed is set to continue.