Congress of Syrian peoples in Sochi to be of great importance for further settlement of situation
Penza, 11 December 2017. PenzaNews. Russian President Vladimir Putin declared a complete victory over Islamic State [ISIS, in the Arabic variant – DAISH, the activities of the terrorist group are prohibited in Russia] militants on both banks of the Euphrates river in Syria.
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“Naturally, there still may be some isolated pockets of resistance but let me repeat that on the whole, at this stage and on that territory, combat action has been completed with the full defeat of the terrorists,” the head of state told journalists during his working trip to Nizhny Novgorod on December 6.
According to him, all participants of the conflict settlement, including the government of Syria, the countries of the region and the UN, “should naturally move to the next stage – the start of a political process, as we agreed at the trilateral meeting of the presidents of Russia, Iran and Turkey in Sochi, that is, establishing and holding the Syrian National Dialogue Congress.”
Earlier Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said that the Congress of the National Dialogue of Syria, the exact date of which has not yet been determined, will be aimed at launching the process for the preparation of the new state constitution.
“According to the statement earlier made in Sochi, the countries should hold consultations on the list of participants. We informed [the UN Special Envoy] Staffan de Mistura about what we are doing. And we want to use the forthcoming Congress – the date of which will be announced later, after we approve the list of participants – to help the negotiations in Geneva launch a stable constitutional process,” Sergei Lavrov said.
Commenting on the forthcoming event in Sochi, Gal Luft, Co-director, Institute for the Analysis of Global Security, said it would be “the first real breakthrough in the diplomatic effort to stabilize the situation Syria.”
“It is clear to me that Assad agreed to make some significant concessions in order for an agreement to be reached. Perhaps he agreed to appoint vice presidents from the opposition or create some autonomy for the rebels or even step down by an agreed upon future deadline. We don’t know yet, but I suppose we would not be talking about a peace agreement without some major concessions on his behalf,” the expert told PenzaNews.
While the fact that war in Syria seems to be winding down there are also some losers, he said.
“One of them is Washington. It is Russia – not the US – that will be ushering the new order in Syria and perhaps the entire region. A Russian brokered peace deal will be a huge diplomatic victory for Putin. If it materializes the Nobel Peace Prize committee will have a hard time overlooking a Putin nomination for next year’s prize. The fact that the meeting will be held in Sochi symbolizes not only Russia’s full ownership of this agreement but also its ability to create a strategic and diplomatic axis with Iran and Turkey,” Gal Luft said.
From his point of view, the optics of all of this do not bode well for US leadership in the region.
“Both the Obama and Trump administrations have demonstrated indecisive and incoherent approach toward the Syria conflict and essentially left the playing field for Russia. The US can at best be a cheer leader for any resulting peace agreement. This would be the first peace deal reached in the Middle East without US involvement and leadership,” the analyst explained.
Another worried player is Israel, he stressed.
“It seems that any agreement would formalize Iranian involvement in Syria and bring Iranian de facto presence close to Israel's border. This will also enable Iran to restore its military link with Hizballah in Lebanon, creating an arc between Tehran and the Mediterranean. Israel abhors such a development yet it is not eager to confront Russia as it values the relations with Moscow. In order to maintain stability in the region Putin will have to be sensitive to Israel's security needs and to ensure that post-peace Syria does not become a staging ground for Iran to attack Israel,” the expert said.
“The third loser is Saudi Arabia which is already engulfed in a domestic crisis. The Saudis lost their chance of overthrowing Assad and have been kept out of the kitchen where the peace deal is concocted. It is not even clear that they will be represented in Sochi. This, and the reversal of the resignation of the PM of Lebanon deal a serious blow to the Saudi leadership and to the prestige of Mohammad bin Salman who essentially led Saudi Arabia's failed Syria policy,” he added.
In turn, Ilgar Velizade, Head of the Baku-based South Caucasus Club of Political Scientists, said that the situation in Syria is moving to a new stage, which can be quite lengthy.
“To date, the following players appeared more or less clearly in Syria: the government of Bashar Assad, which controls the main territory of the country; Syrian Kurds, firmly entrenched in the north-east; and opposition forces operating in the Idlib area and near Damascus. There are also three external actors: Russia, Iran and Turkey, who support the side of the Syrian leadership and the anti-Assad coalition, respectively. There are also the remnants of ISIS and the forces of the Western coalition, as well as Saudis, which are highly fragmented,” the political scientist said.
In his opinion, considering this configuration, the further development of the situation is likely to be connected with the “big political trade,” the agenda of which can be “formed” at the Syrian National Dialogue Congress: the Sochi event could become a “test brick” at the beginning of the process of internal settlement in the short term.
“Russia has helped Bashar Assad to retain power, and let the state institutions of the Syrian Arab Republic (SAR) be able to function. Syria owes much to Russia for its preservation on the political map of the region as an independent state. Another thing, at what price this was reached. As for the prospects for the intra-Syrian dialogue, it also depends on Russia in many respects,” Ilgar Velizade said.
In turn, Kamal Sido, Head of Middle East Department of the Society for Threatened Peoples (STP), expressed confidence that the Congress in Sochi could be of great importance for the settlement of the Syrian question.
“First of all, this is due to the fact that Russia’s interests to some extent coincide with the interests of the Syrian people, in particular, national minorities: Kurds, Assyrians, Yazidis, Christians, Druze and Alawites. But Russia should not follow Turkey. We are very concerned about the policy of Turkey, because recently [Recep Tayyip] Erdogan was trying with Russian support to attack the Kurdish regions, for example, the Afrin region in the north-west of Aleppo, where my relatives live. We hope that the Russian Federation will not allow attacking Kurds in Syria,” the expert said.
In his opinion, today the life of the peaceful population of Syria is of particular concern.
“People are in dire need of humanitarian assistance. There's no electricity, no medicine, not enough food. This problem should be resolved as soon as possible so that the population would not leave their country. I've been in Syria twice this year and I've seen how much people are tired of the war,” Kamal Sido said.
In the meantime, Kenneth Kristensen Berth, Member of Folketing for the Danish People’s Party, Vice-Chairman of the European Affairs Committee in the national Parliament, commenting on the situation in Syria, drew particular attention to the situation with refugees.
“I would like for the Syrian people to have peace again – also for the sake of the Danish people who very much wish for the Syrians to be able to go back to Syria,” the politician said.
“The Danish Peoples Party would like for many of the so-called refugees who have come to Denmark to be deported back to Syria. Many of them are currently waiting for their wives and children to join them in Denmark. We need to stop that from happening,” he added.
Meanwhile, Orkhan Gafarli, expert at Ankara Policy Center, expressed conviction that all regional players highly appreciate Russia's contribution to the settlement of the Syrian conflict.
“Moscow suggests holding a Congress of the Syrian national dialogue in Sochi. This is a very important event for the entire Middle East; Turkey and Europe are also very interested in this dialogue. The Congress will become an important continuation of the Astana and Geneva processes,” the expert said.
At the same time, in his opinion, the situation is complicated by a number of problems, in particular, concerning the future of the country and the further fate of Bashar Assad.
“Russia, Turkey and Iran have disagreements over the Kurds. Russia does not want to lose established contacts with Kurds, Arabs, Shiites and Sunnis in the region and tries to conduct a dialogue with all parties. At the same time, Turkey considers many Kurdish groups to be terrorist organizations. In this context, the Russian-Turkish dialogue is significantly hampered,” Orkhan Gafarli explained.
According to him, Iran is also not pleased that Russia maintains contact with Kurdish groups, but does not oppose their participation in Sochi event, unlike Turkey.
“One of the main issues of the National Dialogue Congress can be the role of the Kurds in the restoration of Syria. [...] Russia is trying to maximally restore the integrity of Syria and plays a very important role in the region. There is still a lot of work to be done, and we do not rush to make any forecasts. Dialogue, which will be conducted between all countries of the region, is very important,” the analyst concluded.