Russian military presence to earnestly protect President Assad of Syria started in October 2015 and within a year Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu and seven unspecified “armed opposition groups” have agreed to sign a truce to stop the carnage that has ruined the country.1 The estimated deaths in Syria so far was 600,000. Russia on behalf of Assad, and Turkey representing the opposition groups, will be guarantors of the deal. Those opposition groups that did not agree with the truce will be treated as “terrorists;” these include the Islamic State or Daesh, Al Nusra which has a new name, Jabat Fatah Al Sham, and two Kurdish groups, the Democratic Union Party (PYD) and the Peoples’ Protection Units (YPG).2
To give the truce some weight, Shoigu decided to present the Agreement to powers within the region: Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Egypt, Iraq, and Qatar.
The revolutionary war in Syria is not over in theory. The contestants will hold on to the territory they occupy, which means that there will be at least three major spheres of influence. The signatories of the truce are not allowed to increase their territories. The deal will allow for autonomy within a federal structure.3 Assad will hold on to his office until the next elections and he and his family will be assured safety, if he seeks asylum outside the country. Several successors to Assad have been discussed, but their names are still a secret.
Shoigu decided to reduce his presence in Syria after three documents were signed: the first was about a ceasefire between the Syrian Government and the armed opposition in Syria; the second dealt with complex measures of control over the ceasefire; and, the third was a statement of readiness to start peaceful talks on the settlement. A process, which was to be effective from December 30, 2016 midnight, also had three stages: after the truce, there would be preliminary talks in Astana, Kazakhstan, on the political settlement, scheduled for January 29, 2017. The third would be a final political settlement in Geneva, scheduled for February 8, 2017. This truce was the third attempt to establish peace in Syria.4
To give the truce some weight, Shoigu decided to present the Agreement to powers within the region: Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Egypt, Iraq, and Qatar. The US, though absent on paper, was needed for financing the recovery. Great emphasis was given to a UN blessing which UNSC gave in Resolutions 2236 (2016) and 2254: Assad had the power to convene a new governing authority that would adopt a new constitution and hold democratic elections.5
The truce in Syria allowed the Turkish Crescent to send humanitarian aid to destroyed areas, especially Aleppo. Since 1945, the US has been very generous with aid programs especially to Europe. Marshall Aid is a classic example. But most dominant countries are short of money. The Americans argue that since Russia did the major damage in Syria, and Assad allegedly used chemical weapons Russia has to pay the bulk of the reconstruction money. Russia’s aid is likely to be in increased arms for Assad who needs to control the whole country on his own after Russia’s reduction of forces. Russia also needs to strengthen its hold over the airbase in Hemeimeen in L’atakia province and the naval base at Tartous.
All Syrian groups, extreme or not, should be involved in the political settlement.
Re-construction money is most likely to come from BRICS’ New Development Bank which has $100 billion in liquid money.6 But the estimated re-construction cost is $180 billion by some estimates, and $350 billion by World Bank. The rich royal kingdoms will have to fork out their share of development funds, whether they were involved or not in the Syrian problem; the whole region is affected.
Hopefully, the peace deal will last, but it is unlikely. The minor breach of the truce and the bombing in Ankara show that the 60,000 rebels in Syria are unlikely to be subdued by isolation from the peace process. All Syrian groups, extreme or not, should be involved in the political settlement. It would be a mistake to leave out Al Nusra which was an active part of the revolution from the start. Al Nusra should be in, but al Qaeda should be out. Those that like to see a weak Arab world try to follow the principle, divide and rule; zones of influence and a federation work on this principle.
Next to a fragmented Middle East are the short-sighted policies that governments within the area follow. On paper, the US has been left out of the process. Since the US was seen to have backed the Gullenists who carried out an abortive coup in Turkey, the Russians chose Turkey as a lead co-guarantor. Russians did not see the Obama Administration favourably: they backed the birther story and argued that Obama was an illegal president. But Turkey is acting as a proxy for America. Both Turkey and the US are members of NATO and share unified military objectives. Turkey recently signed a friendship agreement with Israel which is an American foothold in the Middle East. And, most important of all, Turkey is representing the rebels whom America financed and supported in the social media. Turkey is therefore a proxy representative.
To be continued…
- “Putin announces ceasefire in Syria,” themoscowtimes.com, December 29, 2016. See also “War ended: Russia withdraws troops from peaceful Syria,” pravda.ru, December 29, 2016.
- “Daesh, Nusra and YPG terrorists excluded,” dailysabah.com, December 29, 2016.
- “Syria may be divided into spheres of influence: reports,” themoscowtimes.com, December 29, 2016.
- “The draft of text of Syria ceasefire deal brokered by Turkey, Russia,” Daily Sabah, December 29, 2016.
- “Kremlin seeks UN blessing for Syria truce,” arabnews.com, December 31, 2016.
- “BRICS bank may provide reconstruction aid to Syria,” sputniknews.com, 8.7.2015.