General view of United Nations (U.N.) Special Envoy for Syria Staffan de Mistura attending a meeting on Syria with representatives of the five permanent members of the Security Council (P5) at the United Nations European headquarters in Geneva, Switzerland. Image Credit: REUTERS

The adoption of UN Security Council (UNSC) resolution 2254 raised hopes among Syrians in particular that a political solution to the agony of their country might be in sight. No matter what, after five years of bloody and destructive conflict, many would want to believe that there was a light at the end of the tunnel. But how realistic are these hopes? And are the chances of peace in Syria today greater than they were before the adoption of the UNSC resolution?

Indeed, a series of meetings held in Vienna in October and November, 2015, were instrumental in the new push for peace in Syria. Russia’s military intervention in Syria, which increased the chances of broader conflict in the region, was a main catalyst in the renewed interest in resolving the conflict.

The growing threat of terrorism, with Daesh (the self-proclaimed Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant) claiming responsibility for a number of attacks across the globe, coinciding with a mounting exodus of Syrian refugees entering Europe, provided good enough reason for the big powers to try harder to solve the crisis.

The first meeting of the Vienna process was held on October 30, 2015, and issued a communique; affirming the territorial integrity and the political independence of Syria, as well as the preservation of its state institutions. Attendees also agreed that UNSC Resolution 2118 and the Geneva I Communique of June, 2012, would form the basis for any political resolution to the Syrian conflict.

The second Vienna meeting, which was concluded on November 14, went a step further, producing a road map together with a timetable for a three-phase political transition of power in Syria, to end in December, 2017. They include agreeing on a ceasefire; the establishment of a “credible, inclusive and non-sectarian governance”; drafting a new constitution”; and finally holding UN-monitored elections in which all Syrians, inside the country and abroad, could take part. Saudi Arabia was asked to try to unite the Syrian opposition groups in preparation for negotiations with the regime.

After the downing of its jet by Turkey on November 24, however, a now-bellicose Russia took a negative stand from the entire political process. It considered the call at the Riyadh conference for Syrian President Bashar Al Assad to leave at the beginning of the transitional process as a violation of the Vienna agreement. The Kremlin was also unhappy about the attendance of a number of armed Syrian opposition groups, demanding that they be branded terrorist organisations instead of being welcomed as parties to a peace conference. Indeed, many of these groups were targeted during the early stages of Russia’s aerial bombardment of Syria; including those fighting Daesh.

Following a visit to Moscow on December 15, however, US Secretary of State John Kerry persuaded the Russians to join a meeting for the Vienna Group in New York to draft a new UNSC resolution on Syria. Resolution 2254 codified a series of compromises between Moscow and Washington; the text addressed the views a series of conciliations that brought together two great world powers, but not the concerns of the combatants on the ground, or even the concerns of their regional backers.

The Syrian opposition took a dim view of the Resolution once passed, charging that it was a reflection of Moscow’s own interpretation of the Geneva I communique which does not mention the future of Al Assad. Additionally, the Syrian opposition protested against giving the UN envoy for Syria, Staffan De Mistura, the right to form a Syrian opposition delegation for the negotiation with the regime.

To add insult to injury, the Syrian regime and its allies escalated their military campaign the moment the UNSC Resolution 2254 was passed, seeking to create a new reality on the ground and to dictate the outcome of any political process before it had even begun. The regime also continued to disregard international petitions to lift the siege it had imposed on entire cities and towns near and around the capital Damascus in an attempt to force the population into full submission.

Hence, from a distance, the chances of a political resolution to the Syrian crisis may appear greater today than at any time in the past. In contrast to previous UNSC resolutions, for example, which focused on specific aspects of the Syrian crisis, such as humanitarian concerns or relief work i.e. UNSC Resolutions 2042 and 2043 of 2012, or UNSC Resolution 2118 of 2013, which addressed the question of Syria’s chemical weapons; UNSC Resolution 2254 was the first to deal head-on with the question of a political settlement for the Syrian crisis. In practical terms, however, the chances of an agreement seem not to have improved and hence the hopes for a near end to the Syrian conflict might be unfounded.

Dr Marwan Kabalan is a Syrian academic and writer.