The “ceasefire” in Syria

T
he previous two Syrian "ceasefires" of February and September last were substantial failures. Mediated by too diverging interests, they were bogged down in a zero-sum game among the irregularities committed by all the groups involved.

At strategic and geopolitical levels, many sources still speak of a "tripartite" option for Syria’s future, which could be based precisely on the three agreements of December 30, 2016.

One of them is between the Syrian government and the jihadist “rebels”; then there is a list of mechanisms to monitor the agreement and finally the Astana agreement ends with a letter of intent between the parties so as to begin - after the "ceasefire" - the negotiations which will lead to the end of the conflict.

The agreement signed in the Kazakh capital comes after Assad’ Syrian Arab Army maintaining and sometimes expanding its recent positions, while the jihadists have lost control of half of Aleppo, by also losing the suburbs of Damascus and some large areas in the Idlib province.

The first and most evident political goals are that the Russian Federation wants to capitalize on its new role as Middle East power broker, graciously presented to it by the foolishness of the United States and its European allies, and that Assad also aims at keeping and strengthening his recent positions to soon achieve peace and, above all, the unity of his country.

The maps of the Syrian Chiefs of Staff show that, after this truce, the Syrian attacks will go deep into the centre of the areas still in the hands of the various rebel groups and Daesh, starting from the Mediterranean coast and the border areas between Syria and the Lebanon.

Turkey, which has signed the “ceasefire” along with Russia and Iran, wants to limit the great damage caused to it by the conflict, with the masses of refugees - as many as 2 million people - who are already in Turkey with the other Syrian populations.

Those who would come after Assad’s regime conquering Idlib - as is likely.

Obviously, Turkey hopes that its new role in Syria will be noticed by Bashar al-Assad’s regime and that hence the Kurdish issue will not materialize in a State built by the YPG between Syria and Iraq, which can lap the Turkish Kurdish areas to its border.

On the other hand, an autonomous and independent Kurdistan in Northern Syria could become a sort of geopolitical buffer that would enable Russia, Iran and other powers to have a right of way in the great Middle East region, which would certainly change all the games we have so far experienced in that area and in the Mediterranean.

An essay of the ''Russian National Institute for Research on Global Security" works on the assumption that there is a US primary interest in a great "Sunnistan" at the core of future Syria and Western Iraq.

With a corresponding "Shiite State" in Southern Syria.

It is still the old attempt to extend the pipeline going from Qatar up to Turkey’s Mediterranean border, without touching the Iranian-Shiite areas.

It is the old ethnic federalism, detrimentally experienced for the Balkans, which still inspires the US "line" in the region.

A model derived from the analyses - far more refined than we may think - developed at the time by Samuel Huntington.

Russian, Syria and Turkey do not want this - albeit up to a certain extent.

Russia does not want to military ruin itself for a united Syria; Turkey does not want insecure borders in Northern Syria, while Iran only wants to cover its area of influence to the border with Syria.

If the Syrian war became too long or too expensive, or strategically useless, the Three Powers of Astana’s last "ceasefire" may also accept "federalism" in the region of Bashar al-Assad’s current regime.

Federalism, however, designed by them - certainly not from the United States, which would not even have a proxy State to do the dirty work.

At that juncture, the United States could resort to the strategy of “bloody borders” - as the US analyst Ralph Peters called them – to reshape the local strategic potentials according to its interest.

And hence manage its competitors’ resources with a "long war".

The confidential documents quoted by our sources speculate that - according to US plans - Bashar may be replaced by a “less polarizing” Alawite presidential candidate and that Iran - given the new and scarcely friendly Trump’s Presidency in the offing – may want to immediately solve the Syrian issue, by gaining control of its border areas and its ethno-religious enclaves.

It is worth recalling, however, that currently at least 70% of the Syrian people want Bashar al-Assad’s regime and only 30%, including Kurds, show they like other options.

Let us revert to the "ceasefire" of December 30, 2016, to be mostly considered a sort of Putin’s personal initiative.

If it holds for the month of formal validity, Turkey and Russia will sponsor the peace talks between Bashar al-Assad’s government and the seven major Syrian jihad organizations, except for Daesh and the Al-Nusra Front - that is Al Qaeda - which have already signed the "ceasefire" in Astana, the Kazakh capital.

The signatory organizations are relevant, even militarily.

They include Feilak al Sham, a jihadist organization sponsored by Turkey, with 19 detachments and 4,000 operational militants.

The second jihadist group is Ahrar al-Sham, or Harakat Ahrar al-Sham al-Islamiya, with 80 hit squads and a potential of 16,000 jihadists active in all the strategic sites of the Syrian war: Damascus, Homs, Latakia, Hama, Daraa and Idlib.

The signatories to the "ceasefire" in Astana also include Jaish al-Islam, with as many as 64 hit squads and a total of 12,000 armed jihadists.

There is also the jihadist group of Tuwar al-Sham, with eight battalions totaling about 3,000 militants operating in Aleppo, Idlib and Latakia.

Another group that has signed the ceasefire is Jaish al-Mujahideen, with 13 operating centers and 9,000 active militants.

Then there is also Jaish Idlib, obviously operating mainly in the Idlib region, with three great battalions totaling 6,000 fighters.

Finally, in Astana there were also the plenipotentiaries of Jabhat al-Shamiya, a group with 5 battalions in Aleppo, Idlib and Damascus and an estimated force of 3,200 operational militants.

Hence if Bashar al-Assad’s government, which is really supported by its citizens, should think of some sort of territorial autonomies, Russia and even Turkey would recommend quiet local autonomism as opposed to US-style "federalism".

A system in which also the small and large groups which have signed the ceasefire in Astana may reinvent themselves as local militias, while their old funders leave with their tail between their legs.

For the record, during negotiations Turkey asked to remove the Iranian and Hezbollah forces from the Syrian territory, that obviously denied to the Russian Foreign Minister, Lavrov, that free favour to Turkey and, indirectly, to Saudi Arabia.

Moreover, Ahrar al-Sham, belongs to Al Qaeda - hence to the al-Nusra Front - and initially Turkey did not agree to include the group among the signatories to the Astana ceasefire.

Nevertheless it was precisely Saudi Arabia to directly oblige Ahrar al-Sham to adhere to the Astana Agreement.

The agreement envisages, inter alia, the stop of the Syrian Air Force’s raids against the Syrian "rebels" - air war actions which, where necessary, may be carried out only by Russia.

The signatory groups are required to leave their positions - indicated in the text of the Agreement – which allows to more easily identify and neutralize the Daesh and Al-Nusra Front emplacements.

The text of the Agreement includes a statement providing support by the powers present in Syria to a strong territorial unity of the Syrian government - so that Turkey will not have the Kurdish State, in which not even Russia is interested, and this will remain one of the many US broken promises in the region.

None of the signatories can try to gain more territory while the "ceasefire" is in force.

Finally none of the signatories has insisted on overthrowing Bashar al-Assad.

Furthermore, all signatories shall permit the delivery of humanitarian aid throughout the part of Syria not controlled by the groups excluded from the "ceasefire".

It is explicitly written in the text of the "ceasefire" agreement that all forces shall withdraw from Aleppo’s Castle Street.

Hence the Turkish attack on Kurds has only been postponed, with or without the naive support of the United States, which will certainly leave that glorious Indo-European tribe to its fate.

The jihadist groups, hit in their Saudi and Qatari “leadership”, will not be as dangerous as they are today.

Not even Saudi Arabia wants to die for Syria.

If Saudi Arabia and Qatar have some territorial or financial reason to cease support for the Syrian jihadists, they will slacken off and loosen their grip.

Russia has won across the board. It has wiped the United States out of the Middle East and it has put together two historical opponents, namely Turkey and Iran, into a credible geopolitical project.

Iran is another winner of the Astana Agreement.

Once ensured the security of its borders, it can fully play the new game of the gas pipelines it will operate after the end of the conflict.

The Iraqi army is already at the gates of Raqqa – the eradication of Daesh is only a matter of time.

In short, if the "ceasefire" holds, the whole Syrian and Middle East strategic scenario will change completely.

Also the Kurds are taking Raqqa, with the usual and effective harshness.

Assad’s Army has conquered the outskirts of Wadi Barada, previously held by the jihadists of Jabhat Fatah al-Sham.

The remaining pockets in Homs and Aleppo will be reduced and later Assad’s Army will conquer the primary areas of the territory, currently held by Daesh.

If, as is likely, the truce works and the jihad that signed the Astana Agreement is reduced significantly, for Syria the fight will only be against Daesh, with the help of its strategic supporters.

In this case there will be no escape, no way out.

Giancarlo Elia Valori

Advisory Board Co-chair Honoris Causa

Professor Giancarlo Elia Valori is an eminent Italian economist and businessman. He holds prestigious academic distinctions and national orders. Mr Valori has lectured on international affairs and economics at the world’s leading universities such as Peking University, the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and the Yeshiva University in New York.

He currently chairs "La Centrale Finanziaria Generale Spa", he is also the honorary president of Huawei Italy, economic adviser to the Chinese giant HNA Group and member of the Ayan-Holding Board.

In 1992 he was appointed Officier de la Légion d'Honneur de la République Francaise, with this motivation: "A man who can see across borders to understand the world” and in 2002 he received the title of "Honorable" of the Académie des Sciences de l'Institut de France

 

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