Syrian crisis: a difficult settlement

« Back

Syrian crisis: a difficult settlement 15.02.2018 16:55

The military situation in Syria is gradually changing towards the government of Bashar Assad. So, on February 9, the command of the Syrian national army announced the complete expulsion of the Islamic state militants* from the provinces of Hamf and Aleppo. Islamic radicals appeared on the territory after the defeat of the main ISIL forces * in the province of Deir ez-Zor.

Active hostilities are now continuing in the Syrian provinces of Idlib, Damascus (Eastern Guta), Deir ez-Zor, Deraa and Latakia (northern part). Despite the gradual advancement of the Syrian army with the support of the Russian Space Force and pro-Iranian armed forces, radical Islamists are constantly counterattacking.

The most active are the armed formations of Tahrir ash-Sham* (formerly Djebhat an Nusra*). This group represents the main threat to the Syrians, but somehow they do not want to notice not only in Riyadh, but also in Washington and Ankara. Moreover, they continue to render serious assistance, including by supplying modern weapons and ammunition. (The consequence of this, in particular, was the destruction of the Russian Su-25 attack aircraft over the Idlib province).

On 7 February, US-led forces attacked pro-government armed groups that allegedly attacked the headquarters of the forces of the Democratic Syrian Forces, which was 8 kilometers from the agreed conflict prevention line on the Euphrates River. According to the Pentagon, at the time of the attack at the headquarters were soldiers of the international coalition. As a result, a considerable number of fighters of pro-government forces died.

On this occasion, the following questions arise. First, what right has the United States, who does not have an official invitation from the government of the Syrian Arab Republic (SAR), to establish certain lines of conflict prevention in Syria?

Secondly, why, instead of fighting the ISIL*, whose positions now in the Deir ez-Zor province are reinforced, the US Armed Forces are fighting pro-government armed groups for control over a territory that is rich in oil reserves?

Thirdly, what goals in the province of Deir ez-Zor are pursued by the Forces of Democratic Syria, mainly represented by Syrian Kurds? In this territory the Kurds never lived in significant numbers.

Turkey, Russia, Iran

Turkey's position is no less controversial. Under cover of the struggle against the Islamic state* and ensuring the security of its borders from Syrian Kurds on January 20, the Turkish army launched the "Olive Branch" military operation in the Kurdish canton of Afrin in the north of the province of Aleppo. At the same time, the main military actions in Africa are conducted by pro-Turkish armed groups, in particular, the so-called moderate Free Syrian Army. The Turkish army not only provides them with aviation and artillery support, but also acts on the ground with the forces of armored military units, while limited in scope.

Syrian Kurds steadfastly keep their positions and constantly counterattack. Nevertheless, it is clearly understandable that in Syria Turkey, like the United States, thinks more about the realization of its own national interests. And the main task of Ankara now is to prevent the Syrian Kurds from creating an independent state in the north of the SAR. That is why the Turkish army began in the Syrian canton, where there were never radical Islamist ISIL*, military operation "Olive Branch". And the Turkish leadership sees its next goal in establishing control over Manbij - in order to deprive the Syrian Kurds of organized resistance west of the Euphrates River.

In addition, the Turkish leadership seeks to create a 30-kilometer security zone from the Turkish-Syrian border, primarily in the canton of Afrin; to place in this territory both Syrian refugees living now in Turkey, and pro-Turkish armed formations together with their families; To maintain its military presence in the Syrian province of Idlib, in the suburbs of Damascus of East Guta, in parts of the provinces of Hama, Homs, Aleppo and Latakia.

Partly realize these plans Ankara can only by interacting with Moscow and Tehran within the framework of the Astana format. Therefore, this format of settlement will be preserved, as evidenced by the preparations for the holding of a summit of Russia, Turkey and Iran in Istanbul. The holding of this summit was initiated by Recep Erdogan.

United States, Israel, Saudi Arabia

The Americans, for their part, are concerned about the preservation of their military presence in Syria. The purpose of this is obvious: either the removal of the displeased President Bashar Assad from power or the secession from the ATS of the eastern and north-eastern territories by creating de facto independent state formations there. But this contradicts the national interests of not only Damascus, Moscow and Tehran, but also Ankara.

Not having any real opportunities to change the ruling power in Damascus, on Jan. 22, Washington again accused the Syrian leadership of using chemical weapons against civilians in East Guta. At the same time, Americans shy away from the creation of an international mechanism proposed by Russia for investigating such incidents. Apparently, because it will be proved that this is not the Syrian army, but the armed forces of the so-called moderate Syrian opposition.

The position of Israel is also of interest, which is overly concerned about the strengthening of Iranian influence in southern Syria. Its air and missile strikes against the SAR are illegal, and they far exceed the scale of the threat that the IRI is capable of creating there. By its actions to destroy the "nuclear deal" with Iran, Washington actually pushes Tel Aviv to continue such activities, which forces Moscow to consider expanding the air defense system to Damascus and the southern regions of the country. At the same time, Russia will put pressure on Iran to prevent the provocative flights of its unmanned aerial vehicles over Israeli territory.

Of course, now in Syria, none of the external players are ready for a big war, but seeks to maintain their presence there. And the United States, France, the United Kingdom and Saudi Arabia are trying to block the negotiation process for the settlement of the Syrian crisis and make it as difficult as possible to complicate the dialogue within the Russia-Iran-Turkey triangle.

Sochi, Astana, Geneva

Against this background, on January 30, the Congress of the Syrian National Dialogue was held in Sochi. This congress has not yet begun a general dialogue, since the Syrian Kurds (only at the level of individual representatives) who as the basis of the Forces of Democratic Syria now control about 30% of the territory of the SAR did not participate in its work, and many representatives of the Syrian armed opposition. Nevertheless, the special representative of the Russian president for Syria, Alexander Lavrentiev, called the two main results of the Congress: "Launching the political process with our efforts to help the UN and Staffan de Mistura to find a rational kernel to launch constitutional reform. It will help". Another important result is that various representatives, including the opposition, first met and were able to normally talk with each other.

The Constitutional Council for Syria, the decision to establish which was adopted at the Congress in Sochi, will include no more than 50 people. This was stated by the special envoy of the UN Secretary-General for Syria, Staffan de Mistura, who is charged with forming a commission. He intends to hold consultations with a wide range of players, including representatives of the Syrian opposition. Following the discussions, he will prepare a "list of 45-50 members" and announce it in Geneva.

However, the rules of decision-making by the Constitutional Council have not yet been determined.

It is obvious that now Russia is the key player in Syria. And this is not accidental, since Moscow is interested in carrying out a general dialogue, which is impossible without the resolution of the Kurdish problem. Another question is that now we have to simultaneously seek local armistice with the help of the Center for the reconciliation of the warring parties and help the Syrian national army in the fight against radical Islamists. As a consequence, the process of resolving the Syrian crisis within the framework of the Astana format will be continued, with a gradual expansion of the range of issues discussed: from the resolution of specific military issues, in particular, the de-escalation zones Idlib, East Guta and, possibly, Afrin, stabilization of the internal political situation.

And this does not prevent Russia from maintaining its participation in the Geneva settlement of the Syrian crisis, since, along with the United States; it is the co-chair of this process. And this to some extent legitimizes the relevant activities of Moscow in Astana and Sochi.

Do not underestimate the role of Iran, which has a significant military presence in Syria at the expense not only of the advisers of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, but also the armed units of the Lebanese and Syrian Hezbollah, Afghan Hazaras and Iraqi Shiites. Of course, the interests of Moscow and Tehran in the SAR do not completely coincide. In particular, the Islamic Republic of Iran would like to continue to use the Syrian territory for the transit of military cargo for the Lebanese Hezbollah movement, create a military threat to Israel in the Golan Heights and ensure the unconditional preservation of the power of President Bashar Assad. But this leads to pulling the SAR into the Iranian-Israeli confrontation.

Dialogue and economic recovery

It seems that while the United States and Saudi Arabia retain a significant influence in Syria, it is impossible to launch a general dialogue. But their influence is gradually weakening, which makes it possible to launch such a process in the near future, after complete control of the Syrian army over the provinces of Idlib, Deir ez-Zor, Homs, Damascus (East Guta) and Latakia.

To do this, we must preserve the Astana format of negotiations on the basis of a dialogue between Russia, Turkey and Iran, while not simultaneously rejecting the Geneva format of negotiations, since this format has been recognized from the international point of view. Therefore, it must be maintained until the situation in Syria is fully stabilized.

The process of settling the Syrian crisis must be accompanied by a revival of the national economy, which suffered damage of at least $200 billion. This requires extremely large foreign investment. But under pressure from Washington, Western countries refuse to provide them, linking this problem with the need for the resignation of President Bashar Assad. The UAE and Qatar could invest in the process of rebuilding the Syrian economy, but they can also put forward unacceptable political conditions for Damascus.

As a result, China remains, which had previously largely controlled the oil production, process in the ATS. Now, Beijing is interested in expanding its economic presence there - so, information about Chinese aid (investments) in the amount of two billion dollars has already appeared. Russia and India also intend to cooperate with Damascus in the field of investments.


* - terrorist organizations that are banned in Russia and a number of other countries in the world