Author: Natig NAZIMOGLU
Yet another important step is taken towards the settlement of Syrian problem in the Russian city of Sochi. The outcome of the talks held between the presidents of Russia, Turkey and Iran can affect the fate of the post-war arrangement in the Middle East.
The joint statement of Vladimir Putin, Recep T. Erdogan and Hasan Rouhani indicates their confidence that the defeat of the so-called Islamic State opens new perspectives for the settlement of the Syrian crisis. The main principle of the post-war arrangement in Syria is the preservation of its territorial integrity. This idea runs through all the decisions adopted under the Astana format led by Russia, Turkey and Iran. Hence, Mr. Putin voiced a fundamentally significant statement that the Russian Federation, Turkey and Iran prevented the disintegration of Syria.
All three presidents appealed to the Syrian opposition to join the National Dialogue Congress. This is another message from Sochi, which is aimed at demonstrating the futility of any claims that a priori put Syrian President Bashar Assad out of the game.
It is noteworthy that just before meeting with Erdogan and Rouhani, Putin received Bashar Assad in Sochi. According to the experts, the warm welcome given to the Syrian leader by the Russian president is a signal from the Kremlin to the entire world community that Assad remains an integral part of the settlement process.
Both meetings in Sochi were possible thanks to the latest military actions, which restored the control of Syrian government forces over most of the country. At the same time, the status of the Astana format, which is the priority format for the Syrian settlement, was strengthened. The Astana format contributed to the conclusion of a historic agreement on the establishment of de-escalation zones in Idlib, Homs, East Guta and southwestern Syria. It is no accident that the Russian president thanked his Turkish and Iranian colleagues for their special role in the Syrian settlement. "If it were not for your position, there would simply be no Astana process. It is time to start the next stage of restoration process in Syria," said Putin. It is going to be a difficult process and will depend on the ability and willingness of the parties to reach compromises.
The interested parties are not only the participants of the Astana process but also the powers behind the organization and holding of the Geneva negotiation format. On November 28, another round of inter-Syrian talks took place in Geneva, mainly involving Syrian emigre circles supported by the U.S. and Europe. In addition, the so-called Syrian opposition summit originally conceived as an alternative to the Sochi meeting was held in Riyadh on November 22-24 and mainly included the powers opposing the official Damascus and supported by Saudi Arabia. However, compared to the outcome of the Sochi talks, the meeting in Riyadh was not a big deal.
The statement by Iranian President Rouhani was noteworthy in this sense: "Unfortunately, some countries following the U.S. are engaged in creating disagreements and discord among peoples, seeking to shift the results of such policies to others. Our strategy is based on coordination and cooperation; on friendship but not on enmity."
Turkish president Erdogan highly appreciated the fact that "the whole world witnessed positive steps from the union between Turkey, Russia and Iran", and also expressed special gratitude to the Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev for his assistance in holding the negotiations in Astana. Stressing that "critical decisions" were adopted at the meeting in Sochi, the Turkish president confidently predicted: "The consequences of this meeting will be witnessed in situ in the near future."
However, complications may arise along the way of the Sochi "consequences" mentioned by Erdogan.
World interests and strategic plans
The U.S. President Donald Trump published a remarkable twit stating that it was a mistake for the Americans to be in the Middle East but "he will get it all done." This implies that the U.S. does not intend to quietly reconcile itself to the fact that the settlement process has practically become the fiefdom of Russia, Turkey and Iran. No doubt that Washington has many resources to testify its presence in the region. The idea seems to be further fueling of radical forces inside Syria, as well as mobilization of military-political tools available to a number of American allies in the region, primarily Saudi Arabia and Israel. Incidentally, the latter has already voiced the unacceptability of Iranian presence in post-war Syria. Amidst the beginning of Israeli military exercises on the border with Syria, the head of the ruling Likud party in Israel, Zeev Elkin, even voiced a direct military threat: "If Iran continues its activities related to attempts to turn Syria into its military polygon, we will not let this happen by any means".
Obviously, fully backed by the U.S., Israel can count on the support of American satellites and primarily some of the Gulf states to curb the ‘Iranian threat’. However, Iran is not the main irritant of the world powers, which plans a different future for Syria, different from that of the Western powers. The main objective of these powers is to prevent further growth of Russia's influence in the Middle East; and not only powerful Western sanctions against Russia are implemented for this purpose. Considering the latest steps of the U.S. administration, the White House is not averse to bringing Turkey back into the orbit of its unconditional influence and frustrating the strategic rapprochement between Ankara and Moscow, at least in the Syrian direction.
During a telephone conversation with Turkish President Erdogan, U.S. leader Trump agreed to Ankara's long-standing demand to stop the U.S. delivering weapons to the People's Self-Defense Forces (YPG), which is the Syrian wing of the terrorist organization, Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK).
"Donald Trump was very clear on the issue of stopping this madness, noting that it had to be stopped even earlier," said Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu commenting on Trump’s position. Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yildirim, explaining the motives of the decision of the US administration, stressed that the United States made a wrong choice by cooperating with the organizations of Syrian Kurds in order to combat the terrorist IS, but after the defeat of the latter such need no longer exists.
Ankara is not far from the truth. The cleansing of the region from IS troops plus the military successes of Russia, Turkey and Iran in Syria prevented the Western plan on the establishment of the second Kurdish autonomy in the region. Now this idea can be sacrificed (at least for a tactically grounded term) for the sake of more relevant geopolitical tasks. One of them is to make Turkey pro-American again. Apparently, Ankara has tried to leave the sphere of American influence recently largely due to Washington's failure to consider Turkish interests in the Middle East, primarily on Kurdish issues.
Moreover, the geopolitical loss of Turkey would mean something more to the U.S. and the West as a whole. Ankara is extremely determined to prevent the creation of a Kurdish state at its borders. Therefore, not only Ankara condemns the arming of Syrian Kurds by Washington righteously considering this as an anti-Turkish policy, but also dispatches new batches of military equipment and troops to Syrian border. Also, Turkey does not exclude a possibility of military operations against YPG in the Syrian canton of Afrin.
In addition, Turkey tries to prevent participation of Kurds in the eighth round of the Geneva talks. The representatives of Kurdish organizations Democratic Union and YPG confess that their non-participation is "a consequence of the position and influence of Turkey."
Turkish policy is only one of the components of the motley Syrian mosaic, which is gradually getting the outlines of a creative postwar structure. The task of the entire international community is to prevent the interests of the Syrian settlement process, and therefore the people of Syria, are sacrificed to the strategic plans of leading powers that view the geopolitical map of the Middle East differently.