BEIRUT — When Russia’s Ministry of Defense organized a live news broadcast from the Syrian city of Aleppo on Tuesday, the goal was to illuminate Russia’s role in helping secure the cease-fire introduced the previous day.
In a video of the broadcast posted on social media by Russian news media, a Russian officer stands in front of the camera alongside a Syrian army officer. He begins by giving a brief explanation of the cease-fire, part of a U.S.-Russian agreement to try to end Syria's war.
The cease-fire “generally is holding,” he says, speaking from Castello Road, an important access route into Aleppo.
Then the gunfire starts. At first, the officer, identified as Lt Col. Sergei Kapitsyn, looks confused. He and the Syrian officer clutch each other nervously.
“Take cover! Take cover!” someone positioned off camera yells.
As the shooting intensifies, the two officers duck, then dart out of the frame, presumably to find a safer location.
Later in the news briefing, the video transmission was cut off and replaced with the emblem of the Russian Defense Ministry.
You can watch the shooting here:
The violence was a reminder of the challenge of imposing a cease-fire on the warring factions in Syria in the absence of a wider political agreement. Though Syrians had a welcome respite from airstrikes and bombing on this first full day of the truce, there were scattered reports of shooting across many front lines.
It also suggested that Russian troops are going to be playing a bigger role in implementing the truce on the ground than had been known. The agreement has not been made public, leaving plenty of room for ambiguity in its interpretation by all parties to the conflict. On Tuesday, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov accused the United States of being responsible for withholding the text of the accord and urged the Obama administration to release it in full.
According to the full version of the news briefing released by the Russian Defense Ministry, Kapitsyn, the officer who was forced to duck for cover, is the deputy head of Russia's Center for Reconciliation of Opposing Sides in the Syrian conflict in Aleppo. The briefing also featured Russian officers speaking from the ground in two other locations in Syria. It was anchored by Lt. Gen. Viktor Poznikhir, who is based in Moscow at the Russian Defense Ministry.
Roth reported from Moscow.