Originally published in Greek language in Huffington Post Greece on May 13, 2017
Last Wednesday’s meeting in Astana differs from the previous one. The international atmosphere has changed dramatically since US bombing on Shayrat military airport of the Assad regime. The previous US government left the Syrian territory at the mercy of Russia, which found the military intervention as the most appropriate way to impose its influence and market its weapons systems. On the other hand, the US side has put all the weight on the elimination of the ISIS terrorist organization and the support of the Kurdish militias in northern Syria. However, the recent US hit was so powerful that it led the Russian government to rearrange its papers and start looking for a political solution to maintain what it has achieved so far.
Astana’s last meeting comes after three more that did not bring any results. This time, however, the new Russian proposal was prepared following a series of visits by Russian officials to several Middle East countries, most notably the visit by the head of the Russian Federal Assembly, Valentina Matvienko to Saudi Arabia, and Sergey Lavrov’s visit to Qatar, which followed the visit of the Jordanian Foreign Minister to Moscow.
The Russian proposal is summarized as follows: the creation of four secure areas (“de-escalation areas” as they are designated) in Idlib, north of Homs, north and east of Damascus and southern Syria, so that there is a complete ceasefire. If this first step succeeds, Russia in cooperation with other international players, will send forces involving Arab countries and Western countries. “Egypt and Algeria are the predominant countries to send de-escalation troops” to completely avoid the conflict between the Syrian military opposition and the regime’s forces. Then, bilateral meetings will be organized to achieve a definitive policy.
The idea of de-escalation areas originated from the US government when a spokesman for President Trump announced almost two months ago that he intends to create safe areas in Syria for the containment of the refugee crisis, the reduction of tensions between the various parties and the concentration of the international coalition forces on the elimination of ISIS. When this proposal was made by the Americans, it met Russia’s reaction, which was pressured by Foreign Minister Lavrov to dismiss it as complicated and that it could not be implemented without the Syrian regime’s consent. The American hit, however, yielded.
The agreement has already been signed by Russia, Turkey and Iran, and its implementation began on the 6th of this month but only a few minutes after its entry into force, the conflicts returned to both the northern countryside of the province of Hama and to the east Capital of Damascus, in an effort by Assad forces, backed by the Russian aviation, to control new areas in the hands of the Syrian armed opposition. The implementation of this proposal is mainly linked to the seriousness of the Russian side and its ability to force both Iran and Assad to implement it.
The advantage of the proposal, that all parties have committed to its implementation, is to reduce Russian and state-controlled bombing in civilian areas controlled by the Syrian opposition and thus their losses and can be a real starting point for a political solution to end the Syrian crisis. Also, given that this proposal restores the security of the Syrian people, the choice of immigration will cease to be on their mind. A major disadvantage of this proposal is the possibility of dividing Syria into separate cantons of influence, thus jeopardizing the future of the country as a single state.
On Tuesday, the Russian president had a 30-minute phone conversation with the US president, focusing on the Syrian crisis and the Russian proposal. The White House announced that the US President had in principle supported this proposal. However, the reality is that the US government is preparing a comprehensive solution to resolving the Syrian crisis away from Astana. President Trump’s visit to Saudi Arabia at the end of this month is of great importance for the reordering of the deck and the development of solutions that will include the entire Middle East region and especially Syria that will be the headline of this visit. The solution will only come from Washington. As much as Russia tries, in this game it’s nothing but a walkon.