Trump and Putin Reach Tentative Agreements over Syria
On November 11th, the United States and Russia released a joint communication detailing their progress in developing bilateral cooperation in Syria. The document was released following Trump and Putin’s meeting in Vietnam; it established that there existed a mutual desire to work together in facilitating a UN-led resolution to conflict in Syria. It also outlined a mutual goal of removing any foreign forces, such as Iranian militias, operating militarily within Syrian borders.
The timing of the agreement coincides with the impending defeat of ISIS fighters in Syria. The defeat of ISIS, a common enemy of Russia and the US, brings a natural shared agenda for cooperation to an end. The defeat of ISIS is an impetus that has no doubt caused both countries to re-evaluate their presence and geopolitical agenda in the region. Thus, the need for an established recommitment to cooperation between the United States and Russia is highly necessary.
Under the Trump administration, the United States has maintained a desire to work bilaterally with Russia over the Syrian conflict. Given the extent of both countries’ military involvement in the region, the United States has incentive to avoid getting drawn into a larger conflict amongst great powers. There already exist a multiplicity of strategies between US and Russian militaries to avoid conflict escalation, including a deconfliction hotline to avoid collisions in Syrian airspace. This agreement builds on the desire to avoid conflict by demonstrating interest in the further development of monitoring centers and creating de-escalation zones that mimic cease-fire agreements in southwest Syria.
In a briefing by the State Department, officials described the dialogue preceding the release of the joint statement as “quite intense, difficult, but also professional and ultimately constructive”. The overall tone of the briefing indicated that officials were pleased with the outcome of the dialogue and felt as though the joint communication was productive but not final.
The portion of the document that deviates most from status quo commitments is the expressed aim of creating a final political solution to the conflict. The document stated that “the presidents agreed that there is no military solution to the conflict in Syria”. There remains uncertainty on whether the commitment to a political solution will usher in a period of military reduction from both sides.