MESOP : Russia Proposes March 1 Syria Cease-Fire / Commentaries by Dennis Ross & Roula Khalaf & Jeremy Shapiro

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry will meet (AP) with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov in Munich on Thursday to discuss possibilities for a cease-fire in Syria. Moscow’s proposal suggests a March 1 start to a cease-fire; the United States says fighting should stop immediately. Peace talks are slated to resume on February 25. Meanwhile, a Syrian government-led offensive, backed by Russian bombardments, has forced 50,000 people to flee (Al Jazeera) Aleppo, according to the International Red Cross. A recent report by the Syrian Center for Policy Research, which until recently was based in Damascus, estimated that the five-year Syrian conflict has caused 470,000 fatalities (Guardian) and displaced 45 percent of the population. The UN warned (Reuters) a Syrian government offensive in Homs has cut off 120,000 people from crucial food and medical supplies since mid-January.

“Putin aims to demonstrate that Russia, and not America, is the main power broker in the region and increasingly elsewhere. And he is leaving no doubt that his priority is to use the Syrian conflict for his purposes — not to pave the way for an end of the war. Certainly, were Russia’s costs to increase, Putin might look for a way out. But for now, he’s convinced that we will not — directly or indirectly — provide the types of arms to the opposition that would significantly raise the military costs to the Russians,” writes Dennis Ross in the Los Angeles Times.

“For months Russia has been helping Mr Assad wipe out the very same opposition that was invited to Geneva to negotiate. Mr Putin’s aim is to leave only two sides standing in Syria — the regime and Isis — and to challenge the world to make a choice,” writes Roula Khalaf in the Financial Times.

“The road to a negotiated solution in Syria is a long one, full of switchbacks. The current Geneva process cannot fully achieve peace in Syria. But it can move Syria toward peace if the United States recognizes that the true purpose of the talks is not to determine the precise contours of Syria’s future. It is rather to accomplish the much more mundane task of demonstrating to Russia with abundant clarity that Assad is its problem, too,” write Samuel Charap and Jeremy Shapiro in Foreign Affairs.