Dozens of Russian warplanes sat idle on Tuesday on the tarmac at this Russian air base in Syria on the fourth day of a cease-fire brokered by Moscow and Washington. The apparent lull in action witnessed by the AP on a trip to the base, which was organized by the Russian defense and foreign ministries, contrasts with the hectic operation AP reporters saw here on a previous visit in January.
The cease-fire that began at midnight Friday has brought a notable reduction in hostilities for the first time in the five-year war that has killed more than 250,000 people, displaced half of Syria’s population and flooded Europe with refugees.
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But the truce has remained highly fragile with violations reported in many areas with the opposition and the Syrian government blaming each other. The Islamic State group and al-Qaida’s branch in Syria, Jabhat al-Nusra, are excluded from the truce.
The Russian military said Monday that its warplanes struck al-Nusra targets north of Aleppo. It said that groups that have declared their adherence to the cease-fire are not being targeted. During the five-month Russian air blitz that began on Sept.30, each jet flew several combat sorties on an average day, amounting to an impressive total of more than 6,000 missions.
The Russian Defense Ministry said late Monday that the cease-fire was largely holding despite sporadic violations. Lt. Gen. Sergei Kuralenko, who heads the cease-fire coordination center at the Russian base in Syria, voiced satisfaction with what he described as a good level of coordination with his US counterparts in Amman, Jordan.
Russia and the US have agreed to exchange information about opposition groups abiding by the truce and jointly tackle any possible violations. For President Vladimir Putin, the cease-fire deal offers a chance to capitalize on a successful air campaign that has helped Syrian President Bashar Assad’s military reverse the tide of war and make significant gains near Aleppo and in several other areas.
The US-Russian-brokered truce agreement achieves Putin’s key strategic goal of having Moscow appear as an equal partner of Washington in tackling the Syrian crisis.