Talks on Syria in Astana: fight of journalists, Assad’s trump cards and Turkish ally

Expert Gumer Isaev thinks that retention of power in the hands of the Syrian ruling regime is the most important issue

Talks on Syria in Astana: fight of journalists, Assad’s trump cards and Turkish ally Photo: tvc.ru

Two-day negotiations on the regulation of the conflict in Syria ended in Astana on 24 January. Participants of the meeting were afraid that the negotiation process would drag on. However, it did not. Considering that the talks were held behind closed doors, many questions left. Our columnist, political expert told about the arsenal of Moscow, Tehran, Ankara and Damascus and the outcome of the negotiations.

Turkish fork

The next negotiations on conflict management in Syria ended in Astana. 2015 and 2016 passed with unsuccessful attempts to solve the Syrian crisis during other meetings (Geneva) where western intermediaries played a major role. In Astana, Iran, Russia and Turkey, which joined them, performed the role of intermediaries. The role of Turkey in this process is especially important because it is a NATO member and American partner on the anti-terrorist coalition on paper. Turkey's influence on its allies in Syria, on both the opposition and terrorist groups opposing official Damascus, is the most important thing.

Erdoğan changed his position on Syria as early as 2016 by gradually stopping the support of the Syrian opposition with a focus on the fight against Kurds and elimination of his personal enemies within the country. These Russian-Turkish agreements led to a withdrawal of militias from Aleppo and their transfer to Idlib. The current ceasefire, which is frequently violated, rests on them. Probably Putin and Erdoğan are going to create their plan for division of Syria into areas of influence on their basis.

Iran's opinion about this situational union is the question. Iranians are not very glad about the Russian-Turkish rapprochement. Syrian Kurds were also against it – Democratic Union party members claimed that they would not support any decisions made in Astana.

''Erdoğan changed his position on Syria as early as 2016 by gradually stopping the support of the Syrian opposition with a focus on the fight against Kurds and elimination of his personal enemies within the country.'' Photo: lragir.am

Why Kazakhstan?

The choice of Astana as a place of negotiations is clear: Kazakhstan is Russia's key regional partner that has close ties with Turkey. There is a reason to suppose that Nazarbaev played an important role of intermediary in the reconciliation of Russia and Turkey. The period of the event is also good – Trump is busy with taking the office, and America is bogged down in mass protests. Europeans also have other things to do except Near East. Assad came to the negotiations with good results – conquered Aleppo by Iranians and Hezbollah together with the Russian Aerospace Forces. And Syrian oppositionists are split because of domestic squabbles, they even shoot at each other. Politically undesirable ISIS (Editor's Note: a terrorist organisation banned in Russia) is doing well. It easily occupied Palmyra, it is successfully besieging Deir ez-Zor and has been an obstacle for Turkish forces to occupy Al-Bab for several months.

Before Syrians decided to determine the fate of their country, Astana hosted difficult negotiations between Turkey, Iran and Russia. They resulted in a publication with a joint statement that did not have any sensation in fact. It is said that Iran, Russia and Turkey support the initiative of negotiations between representatives of the Syrian authorities and the Syrian opposition, which will be held on 23 and 24 January.

Key issue

As usual, the negotiations took place in a tense atmosphere: Arab journalists quarrelled and fought with each other, Syrian power representatives left the hall of negotiations after topical and provocative questions. Oppositionists blamed the power and threatened to leave the negotiation process to restart the war.

''The most topical questions of Syrian management like Assad and the ruling circle's fate were not raised. It is probably the most important reason for the failure of the negotiations.'' Photo: rus.azattyq.org

In general, negotiations can be considered successful for several reasons: key regional players – Turkey and Russia – gathered there, Russia was the key external player, the UN gave the green light, field commanders represented the opposition, not representatives of Syrian emigration in the West.

The most topical questions of Syrian management like Assad and the ruling circle's fate were not raised. It is probably the most important reason for the failure of the negotiations. Leaving all nuances apart, we can say that in today's Syrian war, the issue on retaining power in the hands of the Syrian ruling class was the most important for warring parties. But an attempt of intermediaries to solve it inevitably caused a paralysis of the whole negotiation process almost like when only the issue on Jerusalem's status could have just destroyed all agreements between warring parties.

This is why we can say that not having raised all key questions, the negotiations in Astana could have had chances to be calm and focused on the solution of humanitarian issues and ceasefire matters. It also can be an acceptable result.

By Gumer Isaev