Is it possible to establish peace in Syria

For the moment, no one says that war in Syria ended, nevertheless since the beginning of Syria peace talks in Astana, one should admit that the balance on the ground and table has crucially changed. Of course, it is obvious that prospects of peace in Syria is far from some optimists’ overstatements. As for now, Syrian Army holds only 50-60 % of the entire territory. The conflict limitedly continues on several fronts like Raqqa, Deir al-Zor, and İdlib. 

Егемен Қазақстан
19.09.2017 1135

What we have in Syria at the moment is that SDF Kurdish forces lead by US coalition plans in a couple of months to conquer Raqqa, the last stronghold of ISIS, while some troops are sent to Deir al-Zor as well, where Syrian army, supported by Russia, fights against ISIS there. The northern part of the river is considered as a place of oil deposits.  

On the western side of Syria, four de-escalations zones are supposed to be created after the 4th round of Astana talks held in May. Southern Syria was a subject of talks involving the US, Russia, and Jordan, making Israel anxious about increasing role of Iran in Syria. Ceasefire in Eastern Ghouta and Homs is reached by the joint efforts of Russia and Egypt, the close military ally of Saudi Arabia and Gulf region.  

The 5th round of Astana negotiations failed because of Syrian opposition’ worries against İran’s impact as well as new obligations to fight together against terrorist groups. Turkey has its own say in terms of İdlib and the region’s importance to undoing Kurds’ advancements.     

At the 6th rounds of Syria peace talks, held in Astana a tripartite alliance of Russia, Iran and Turkey emerged, which turned the tide of civil war before changing it into tactical race with Western-Gulf coalition of who will be the first to win the game in strategic points like Idlib, Deir-az Zor and so on. The role of Turkey was critical to maintain and tilt the military and political balance in Syria since the conflict erupted in 2011.

Following the Russian-Turkish rapprochement in 2016 by the efforts of Astana, Turkey’s strong position transformed into much more flexible behavior. Recently, the UN’s Special Envoy for Syria Staffan de Mistura stated that the Syrian opposition must now accept that it has not won the war. Sure, Moscow presses its two big partners to end the Syrian war. But Turkey mistrust about the US’s Syria policies to support the Kurds, controlling the Northern region (Afrin). İt is mainly due to Turkey’s consent that Russia, Tehran, and Ankara agreed in Kazakhstan on the most controversial, complicated de-escalation zone of Idlib, where disintegrated Free Syrian Army (FSA), factions, Al-Nusra (Al-Qaeda), Ahrar-Al-Sham (recently defeated by HTS) are sandwiched between different military influence zones in a highly explosive place.   

It will be surprised that the Idlib safe zone will be patrolled and observed by the special staff of Russia, Iran, and Turkey through common coordination center according to mutually prepared plans and maps. It is interesting to see how the last resort of radical Jihadists would be divided between the influence zones of Iran (supporter of pro-Assad Militias), Russia (supporter of Syria and now would-be arbiter) and Turkey (supporter of FSA). But Al-Nusra is still strong to defeat in a short time, and there is fear that Aleppo massacre may be repeated. Now Turkey is ready to launch a military operation with help of FSA from Hatay region through entering Western-Nothern part of Syria.            

No doubt, these rapid changes and significant decline of violence in the country as a whole was possible only after Russian-Turkish rapprochement due to Astana’s efforts.  The aim is to create appropriate conditions for political negotiations on the future of Syria. The negotiations in Astana have done more in the past six years than any diplomatic push. The question is how to translate the advances in concrete political progress.                  

It is planned that the next 7th round of extraordinary high-level talks in October might involve more Arab countries like Egypt, Iraq, UAE, and Lebanon as issues, related to arrested opposition members will be discussed as well. France might have a potential role in the talks. It is also stated by Russia that China could be represented at the next talks, which means it could be interested in the reconstruction of Syria given its global OBOR strategy and unique location of Syria. V.Naumkin, a distinguished Russian expert on the Middle East, hopes that financially rich Western and Gulf countries should be involved in the rebuilding of Syria. For now, it is unknown in what degree the West want to take part in the reconstruction of ruins and its reputation.         

As a conclusion, one can say that for ‘reestablishment of peace’ (what is the most needed for Syria) in the country, now it is not important which country promotes the peace talks. Any party trying to end the war will have upper hand for peace. What is essential is a hope of Syrian people who still deserve the return to peaceful life. Lives of civilians and stabilization of the war-torn country matter. The parties responsible for the escalation of the conflict in the name of their interests can save their face only if they could reach a consensus on the issue. Otherwise, there is no second way.       

Zhanat Momynkulov

Middle East expert  

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