TSI Quick Reaction Summary of US-Russia Agreement

Announced 09 September 2016 following negotiations between US Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov in Geneva.

Today Secretary of State John Kerry and the Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov announced a major development in their efforts to restore calm in Syria and bring the warring parties back to the negotiating table. After a full day of talks, Lavrov and Kerry held a joint press conference to announce that the US and Russia had reached an agreement that they tentatively hope may be a turning point in the bloody Syrian war.

The main points of the agreement:

  1. Russia and the US agreed on steps to reach the point where the Syrian regime will not fly combat missions anywhere in Syria that the legitimate opposition is present. These areas will be carefully and specifically delineated by agreement of both countries. This move will prevent the regime from indiscriminate bombing of civilians and from striking moderate opposition forces under the pretext of targeting terrorists.
  2. If there is a sustained period of reduced violence and humanitarian access, then the US and Russia will begin working together to develop a plan to cooperate in military strikes against al-Nusra.
  3. All parties must recommitment to nationwide Cessation of Hostilities (COH), effective at sundown on 12 September 2016 – the beginning of the Eid holiday. This COH includes the halt of all aerial attacks and attempts to gain territory, as well as unimpeded humanitarian access to all besieged and hard to reach areas. As part of the COH, all parties will be required to pull back from the Castello Road to create a demilitarized zone that will allow for humanitarian access to Aleppo city.
  4. Starting on 12 September, the US and Russia will begin preparatory work to create a Joint Implementation Center (JIC) staffed by American and Russian security experts. Once the new Cessation of Hostilities has held for seven days, the JIC will begin operations. The operations will include some information sharing, the delineation of areas controlled by Al-Nusra and legitimate opposition groups, and planning of a strategy for joint US-Russian air strikes against Al-Nusra.

Analyst notes:

  • While Lavrov mentioned that they agreed on procedures on responding to any breaches or violations of the COH, no details were given. The lack of enforcement or compliance measures in previous agreements has been a key contributor to their failure.
  • Kerry reiterated several times that the agreement is not based on trust, it all hinges on oversight, compliance, and mutual interest. “Plans do not implement themselves,“ he said, alluding to years of agreements on paper that have failed to materialize on the ground.
  • Both Kerry and Lavrov made a point to say that this agreement should not be interpreted as the US conceding to Russia. The reason is that up until several months ago the US clearly and repeatedly ruled out military cooperation with Russia in Syria, calling the Russian strategy “tragically flawed,” since it aimed primarily to prop of the Assad regime instead defeating ISIS as Russia claimed.
  • Russia said that it has already discussed the deal with the Government of Syria and received its approval. Russia will be responsible for ensuring the regime’s cooperation.
  • Kerry said that opposition forces must physically distance themselves from Jabhat al-Nusra and ISIS in order for the agreement to work. He did not give any indication whether any political or military opposition groups had been consulted on this agreement.
  • The actual agreement consists of a 5-page document with details on US-Russia coordination procedures, increasing aid and trade protocols, compliance measures, etc.

Update: You can read the full transcript of the Kerry-Lavrov press conference HERE.