United Nations Syria envoy Staffan de Mistura speaks during a press conference in Geneva on March 15, 2016, on the second round of Syrian peace talks at the UN headquarters
United States Secretary of State John Kerry said Russia's plan to withdraw most of its forces, along with the opening of United Nations-mediated Syria talks in Geneva, may be "the best opportunity" to end the five-year civil war. The news gives hope for those seeking a political compromise in Damascus.
The Russian air campaign against the Islamic State (IS) started last September, which secured Moscow's high-profile intervention in the Middle East, and had tipped the balance in favor of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad that allowed him to recapture territory from rebels.
Moscow has become "the most visible existence" of the Syrian problem in the last seven months. Countries such as US, Turkey and Saudi-Arabia have never stopped criticizing; claiming Russia is using a crackdown on the IS to conduct bombings on Syrian rebels to strengthen the Bashar government.
Although the US hasn't involved itself with military forces, it has increased the arms and logistics of supplies to rebels. Turkey and Saudi Arabia have already come to the front desk, with the former continuing to bombard Kurdish armed forces in Syria and the latter holding large-scale military drills targeting Syria, expecting to expedite ground forces there.
"A war for the regional agent" was about to escalate. The timing of Russia's pullout sends a positive signal to make peace in the world. After two weeks of ceasefire, Syrian talks have restarted in Geneva. The economic plight in Russia has made Putin more determined to pull away from Syria.
As the UN Special Envoy to Syria, Staffan de Mistura, who is mediating Geneva talks, said this round of talks would be "substantial negotiations" that cover substantive issues including the recombination of an interim Syrian government, revising its constitution and realizing elections.
Yet, there's a series of "material obstacles." Although Kerry believes Moscow supports the reopening of Syria talks, "material obstacles" could delay peace.
The barriers include: Bashar's removal from power, whether he would participate in the interim government; the defining of "terrorist groups", how to distinguish rebels from terrorist forces among the thousand anti-government armaments and what forces would be allowed to join in the interim government; and the procedural question between recombining government and realizing elections.
It is not the first time Kerry made efforts to end the Syrian civil war. As early as November 2013 and before the UN called on an international peace conference, he appealed to the international community and factions in Syria to end bloodshed.
Whether "the best opportunity" can be seized is not decided by Russia's withdrawal of forces or the reopening of Geneva talks, but rather rests in the will of all parties in Syria and an essential political compromise aimed at realizing the country's territorial integrity and people's well-being.
He Wenping, senior researcher at The Charhar Institute, researcher at the Institute of West-Asian and African Studies with the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences