A partial cessation of hostilities in Syria has provided some relief to the country’s long-suffering population over the past two weeks. By some estimates, violence is down 80 percent or more; according to the World Food Program, convoys carrying food and medicine have reached some 150,000 of the half a million people who previously were under siege. In some places, public demonstrations against the regime of Bashar Assad have resumed, showing that the dictator has failed to crush the rebellion that began five years ago.
Meanwhile, the political winner of the cease-fire is Russia. Vladimir Putin has posed as a peacemaker and statesman while continuing to advance his military objectives in strategic areas. Russian planes are still bombing: According to opposition sources, one airstrike hit a fuel market in rebel-controlled Idlib province on Monday, killing tens of people. Under the pretext of fighting terrorist groups excluded from the peace process, pro-Assad forces backed by Russian airpower are trying to sever the last supply road for the rebel-held side of Aleppo and to capture other key ground near Damascus.
The pause in fighting has saved lives, thankfully. But the price of the deal has been high: It has put Putin in command in Syria, able to chip away at Western-backed forces while ensuring that the genocidal dictatorship he backs remains in place.
The cease-fire is supposed to lead to the resumption of U.N.-brokered negotiations on Syria’s future. A spokesman for mediator Staffan de Mistura predicted Tuesday that indirect talks would get going by next Monday, though the rebel coalition has yet to confirm its attendance. According to a U.N. resolution, the Assad regime and its opponents are to agree on an 18-month plan to create a transitional government and organize elections. But Assad has no intention of yielding power; he is already organizing his own parliamentary elections for next month, in defiance of the U.N. road map.
U.S. officials still predict, implausibly, that Putin will cooperate in forcing Assad to leave office. In reality, the best that can be hoped for is that Syria will settle into an uneasy partition, marked by chronic but perhaps less bloody fighting.