49%-51%: Germany, Russia, UK disagree on odds of Syrian ceasefire holding

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov (L) speaks to German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier at the Munich Security Conference in Munich, Germany, February 13, 2016. © Michael Dalder
The foreign ministers of Germany, Russia and the UK attending a security conference in Munich gave conflicting views on how likely the negotiated ceasefire in Syria would hold and who it would depend on.

Responding to a question on how likely the Syrian Army and so-called moderate rebel groups are to observe the ceasefire negotiated by world powers, Germany’s Frank-Walter Steinmeier simply said, “51 percent.”

Sergey Lavrov, his Russian counterpart, was reluctant to voice any percentage, and said any success in the peace process would depend on the US military finally agreeing on coordinating their actions in Syria with Russia.

He said that while his counterpart, Secretary of State John Kerry, in his Munich speech earlier said that military cooperation with Russia is what the US wants in Syria, statements from the Pentagon directly contradicted it. Moreover, the US insists on continuing its own military action in Syria while demanding that Russia put its campaign on hold, even though both campaigns are targeting terrorist groups.

“The fact that the discourse around this ceasefire is drifting toward prioritizing the halt of the operations of the Russian Air Forces makes me strongly suspect that our peace effort would end in a sour way. If the military are not maintaining an honest day-to-day contact… nothing can be achieved,” Lavrov said.

“If the Americans try to play it back now, it would be their responsibility,” he added.

Moderator Wolfgang Ischinger joked: “Sounds like a little less than 50 percent,” to which Lavrov glumly replied: “Forty-nine.”

“I don’t speak Russian, but I was judging something close to zero,” commented the third member of the panel, UK Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond.

He proceeded to say that it was Russia who can finally make or break the ceasefire, accusing Moscow of bombing the same moderate opposition that it expects to observe the ceasefire, an allegation that Russia denies.

“Whatever you call it, whatever the justification, whatever the language – over the last weeks Russia has been bombing the moderate opposition positions. In the name of fighting terrorism, whatever,” Hammond said. “Unless Russia over the next days is going to stop or at least significantly scale back that bombing, the moderate armed opposition will not join in this process.”

Ironically, Russia has been trying for months to get the sponsors of the “moderate Syrian opposition” provide the Russian military with accurate list of the armed groups, which should be considered moderate enough to be negotiated with, and their positions so that Russia wouldn’t bomb them. This information is exactly what Lavrov said the Pentagon is withholding from the Russian military, despite all Moscow’s requests.

What is collectively called the Syrian rebels are a fluid and disorganized assortment of armed groups with conflicting agendas and shifting allegiances. Agreeing who should be at the negotiations table was a major challenge during the organization of the peace talks in Munich, and eventually only the terrorist group Islamic State and the Al-Qaeda branch in Syria, the Nusra Front, were explicitly excluded.