On Wednesday, the presidents of Russia, Iran and Turkey will meet in Ankara to "check the clock." A little less than a year has passed since they made a historic decision to create zones of de-escalation in Syria and to share responsibility for the future of the country. It's time to sum up the subtotals. They are ambiguous: there are successes, but there are also problems, some of which are traditionally associated with the United States.
Russia, Iran and Turkey signed a memorandum on the establishment of de-escalation zones in the RAA in May 2017. The main objectives of the document were stated as an early termination of violence, improvement of the humanitarian situation and "the formation of favorable conditions for the advancement of a political settlement of the conflict". Since then, almost a year has passed, and the probability of success for two of the three points is still highly questionable.
In total, it was announced the creation of four zones of de-escalation - in Idlib, north of the city of Homs, in East Gut and in the south. The monitoring of the cease-fire regime was divided between the main actors of the conflict: the zone of de-escalation of the "Eastern Guta" is controlled jointly by Russia and Syria, the zone in Homs is also under the protection of Moscow, and the zone in Idlib - Turkey. As for the South of the ATS, Russia, the United States and Jordan shared responsibility there.
According to the Memorandum, in these zones a ceasefire is being established, infrastructure is being restored, and humanitarian assistance is provided to the peaceful population. At the same time, the very creation of the zones was declared a temporary measure, the validity of which was six months, but with the automatic extension on the basis of the consensus of the guarantor countries - Russia, Iran and Turkey.
Undoubtedly, the cooperation of this "troika" was an important step towards achieving the set goals. But, unfortunately, without a guarantee of success. And that's why.
Victory and defeat
All declared zones are located in the most problematic areas of Syria. And their main problem is not even in the frequency of armed clashes, but in the fact that there is no clear desire for a cease-fire by the opposing sides. Already two days after the signing of the memorandum, 20 violations of the "silence regime" were recorded.
To date, Moscow assesses the situation in the de-escalation zones as stable, but violations of the ceasefire continue to be fixed regularly. The most stable were Idlib and the Homs district. As Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov noted, they "function more or less successfully." Much worse things are in the south of Syria. It is explosive also because there are overlapping interests of too many states - Israel, Jordan, Iran, Russia, the USA. The slightest changes in the balance of power can lead to serious clashes.
As for the Eastern Guta, now we can talk about a turning point in the situation - the Syrian army took it under its control. However, security problems remain, in addition, military actions in this zone led to a humanitarian catastrophe. According to UN staff members who arrived in Eastern Gutu in February, there is a "serious food shortage": "69 cases of acute food shortages are registered in the local hospital, and another 127 children are in danger." In parallel, there are reports of infectious diseases, such as tuberculosis, typhoid and scabies. Vaccine stocks are running low, the last vaccination campaign was conducted in November, and now the risk of the order of 600 children is at risk.
It should be noted that the Memorandum signed by Iran, Russia and Turkey points to the humanitarian aspects of the creation of de-escalation zones, however, specific goals and their implementation are not clearly defined. Humanitarian aid, of course, turns out, but is not of a full-scale systemic nature, deliveries are highly dependent on hostilities. Another thing is that the priority in these zones is still the cessation of shooting, and not the provision of civilians, and yet this aspect is of great importance for Syria. According to the UN, more than 13 million Syrians need humanitarian assistance, more than 6 million people lost their homes and are considered internally displaced, finally, more than 5 million people are registered as refugees.
Another drawback of the Memorandum was that it "mentioned the creation of conditions for a political settlement", but the document does not contain specific language, exactly how this political settlement is planned. But the devil is traditionally covered in detail. Since 2012, the world community has held many negotiations in different formats, in different cities (Geneva, Vienna, Astana, Sochi) and in different groups, that is, with different opposition groups - Moscow, Er-Riyad, Cairo and "Astana", but serious progress has not been achieved. However, this is predictable: a long Syrian conflict has spawned many sides, and at the negotiating table, each of them pursues its own interests.
Disagreements of the Big Three
The conflict in the UAR is fueled not only by internal contradictions - it strongly depends on the decision of third-party players. Over the years since the beginning of the war, a whole system of interactions of external and regional actors has taken shape. First of all, these countries are guarantors of the ceasefire regime - Russia, Iran and Turkey. Their main link was disagreements with the West, in particular, with the United States, and the desire to create a counterbalance to the Americans in the region prompted to unite efforts.
Outwardly, the interests of Moscow and Tehran in the SAR coincide - the territorial integrity of the state and the preservation of the ruling regime. Differences are manifested in views on the future of Damascus, as well as on the role and place of each of the parties to the conflict.
Tehran is interested in preserving the advantages of relatively few Alawites over the Sunni majority. This will allow Iran to strengthen its position in the Middle East as a whole: the influence on the way of Iran-Iraq-Syria-Lebanon provides a guaranteed opportunity for military-technical and financial supply of pro-Iranian forces in the zone of this corridor.
Russia wants to see Syria as a secular state, in which all faiths and ethnic groups will be equal. In addition, defending its interests in the region, Moscow maintains business relations with virtually all Middle Eastern states, including the main opponents of Tehran - Saudi Arabia and Israel. Active actions on the side of Iran can lead Russia to confrontation, first, with the majority of the states of the region, and secondly, with the global Sunni Muslim majority, which is highly undesirable for a multi-confessional country.
Turkey's interests in the SAR often contradict Russian and Iranian. For example, at the very beginning of the war Ankara strongly opposed President Bashar Assad, but for some time softened its rhetoric. The main task of Turkey is the maximum easing of the Kurds. Since January of the year 2018, Ankara has been conducting a military operation "Olive Branch" with the aim of pushing them out of Afrina and creating a buffer zone on the border between Turkey and Syria.
The Kurdish factor has a significant impact on Turkish-American relations. Kurds seek to create a broad national autonomy and, having secured US support, were able to strengthen their positions in the region. Turkey is categorically against Washington's cooperation with the Kurdish "People's Self-Defense Forces" and is ready to go on an open confrontation with the Americans, who, however, are also determined. This demonstrates the transfer by the Pentagon of additional detachments of land forces and military equipment to counter any possible attack on the Madbiz by the Turkish forces.
Americans, Europeans, Saudis
The US policy in Syria is inconsistent, and sometimes contradictory. On the one hand, the current administration of the White House declares its desire to step aside from the problems of the Middle East, concentrating on the internal affairs of the country. On the other hand, he tries to demonstrate his determination and emphasize the difference with the "indecisive" Barack Obama. To this end, the United States is attacking the Syrian airbase of Shayrat in the province of Homs, looking for traces of a chemical attack in East Gut, sending its troops to support allied forces.
At the same time, Donald Trump states that the United States can "very soon" withdraw from Syria.
At the same time, the United States supports Israel, sharing its ally's concern by strengthening Tehran's influence. Israel basically does not allow the presence of Iranian military personnel or the Shiite paramilitary group Hezbollah near its border in the southwestern zone of de-escalation. In order to ease the anxiety of the Israelis, the United States and Russia took into account the interests of Tel Aviv. It is not by chance that practical actions to create a zone in the south and a zone in East Gut were carried out without representatives of Iran.
Saudi Arabia also plays a significant role in the Syrian conflict. Riyadh actively supports part of the Syrian opposition - the High Committee on Negotiations (VKP), which allows the kingdom to attend the consultations on the settlement. Initially, the "er-riyad group" took an absolutely implacable, radical position, insisting on the resignation of Assad and often torpedoing negotiations. However, considering the current alignment of forces, the Saudi leadership was forced to change rhetoric. At the January talks in Sochi, the VKP took a similar position with Russia, advocating the unification of the entire Syrian opposition.
Europe and Jordan are also interested in resolving the conflict in the SAR, which is explained by the large number of Syrian refugees they accepted. In the case of Europe, it is more than a million people (counting from 2011 a year), in the case of Jordan - more than 1,4 million, that is more than 13% of the total population of the country. This number of "guests" has become a real burden for the economy, security and water resources of the Hashemite Kingdom.
For the year of its existence, the zones with varying success met their main goal - the de-escalation of the conflict. At the same time, they did not contribute either to a significant improvement in the humanitarian situation or to a seemingly political settlement. The conflict in Syria continues. In this conflict, all will decide the political bargaining at the negotiating table. And, given the tangled ball of contradictions and different directions of interests of the main players, the stability in the SAR will not come soon.