After eight rounds of talks in both Geneva and Kazakhstan’s capital Astana, the “sponsors” of Syria’s lost peace have agreed to meet, this time round, in the Russian Black Sea resort of Sochi.
To begin with, there were differences of opinion towards the need of negotiations taking place in Astana since there was already a UN sponsored peace process in Geneva. More so, since there is - at least - a verbal agreement on abiding by the outcome of “Geneva 1”; i.e., the first round of the Geneva process, and regarding the Geneva process the gateway of the peaceful settlement in Syria.
However, in the light of emerging duplicitous stances, contradictory evaluations, intentional recreation of new facts in the battlefield, as well as some major players’ reversal of their original commitments, numerous “givens” have changed.
For a start, Russia went from using the “veto” (three times) to prevent international attempts at stopping the brutal suppression of the peaceful popular uprising to re-interpreting “Geneva”, with Iran’s and China’s support, on the ground! Then, both Russia and Iran launched a ferocious campaign to justify escalating their support for the Damascus regime’s war machine; claiming that the rebel “Free Syrian Army” and other rebel groups were being armed by foreign powers, including Turkey.
Furthermore, Russia and Iran accused Turkey of colluding with Islamist “terrorism” –Sunni, in Moscow’s and Tehran’s definition –, and facilitating entry of extremist terrorists to Syria via Turkey after providing them with weapons and training. In the meantime, Ankara was repeatedly claiming that it would not stay “idle-handed” while Syria’s Bashar al-Assad continued doing what he was doing to his people.
Peace in Syria is finished; and those who decide to go to Sochi do not really represent Syria, but rather their sponsors and backers… and here is the terrible tragedyEyad Abu Shakra
As for the US, Washington clearly welcomed the Syrian uprising, early on, as it did with regard to the other uprisings of “The Arab Spring” of 2011. American officials were soon claiming that the “Assad regime has lost its legitimacy”, and “there was no role for Assad in Syria’s future”.
Yet, there were two apparent reservations against the Syrian uprising from its early days, which may have contributed to the American and Western appraisal, in general, of that uprising. First, the weird official Israeli “silence”, and secondly, the outright opposition expressed by some Christian Middle Eastern clergymen.
Indeed, while the Israeli government was keen to keep quiet, some media and ex-intelligence personalities were saying candidly that the fall of a regime that had kept Israel’s northern borders since 1973 was not in its interests. As for the Christian clergymen, namely Lebanese and Syrian, they were saying in every Western capital they visited that “while the Assad regime was never exemplary, any replacement would be worse”!
During this period, while the Syrian uprising and other uprisings of “The Arab Spring” were teetering between relatively smooth change and bloody civil wars creating “failed states”, former US President Barack Obama was planning his radical strategy for the Middle East. He was in a hurry to establish a “new Middle East” totally different from the one Washington was dealing with since “the Cold War”, but particularly, since 1979.
Obama’s new strategy included winning back Iran as an ally of the US. However, unlike the old alliance with the Shah, who was regarded as a subservient “minor ally” and a mere “link” in its chains of containment of the former USSR; Obama saw in “revolutionary” Iran a “partner” in the fight against the Arab “Right”, and what he considered the “suicidal” policies of Sunni fundamentalism. Thus, the nuclear agreement (JCPOA) signed with the Iran Mullahs, after lengthy secret negotiations, became one of the underpinnings of Washington’s new regional policies.
In order to insure the success of the JCPOA, Obama was willing to go far; and consequently, the Syrian uprising, regarded by Tehran as fatal threat to its interests, became the first victim of the Obama – Khamenei deal. As suppression and bloodshed continued in Syria, chemical weapons were used causing many to expect that what was always warned against and claimed its usage would be a “red line”.
Yet this “red line” was not only ignored by Washington, but President Obama went on to dismiss the ability of the rebels, hence leading the uprising into a different stage. At this point, the regime realized, and so did Moscow and Tehran, that Washington’s interests where somewhere else, and that it was free to do whatever it liked.
On the other hand, two developments, drastically changed Turkey’s position: The first was Washington’s active military and political support of the “separatist” Kurds of northern Syria under the pretext that they were “the only force capable of confronting and defeating ISIS”, which was indebted to international dubious attitude for its growth, expansion and ability to destroy and displace.
The second development was Turkey’s downing a Russian fighter bomber in the late November 2015, while in a sortie supporting Assad’s ground troops over the Syrian – Turkish border area. Following this incident, fearing an unequal confrontation with Russia, and realizing that despite being a NATO member neither Washington nor NATO itself were willing to stand by it, Ankara decided to reach an “understanding” with Moscow.
In addition to the above, as Washington pushed forward with its Kurdish option, Ankara rediscovered the anti-Kurdish common denominator with the Iranians, which more than justified cooperation with Tehran and sacrificing the Syrians and their uprising.
Since then, after Russia and Iran were citing the need to “fight Turkey-backed Takfiri extremists” to justify their “occupation” of Syria, Russia, Iran and Turkey decided to work together in pursuit of their converging interests in Syria and the Middle East. This resulted in launching the Astana Talks, to which what has remained of armed rebels was invited.
However, what has become clear, looking at what has been taking place on the ground, the aim of the Astana Talks was to tie up the armed rebels, and push the “moderate” factions to fight their more “radical” counterpart such as Al-Nusra and other Al-Qaeda like groups.
Since January 23 and 24, 2017, during the eight rounds of the Astana Talks held under Russian sponsorship and US and UN participation, the regime backed by Russia and Iran has been imposing its combat superiority, the opposition has been forced to make more and more concessions, and lose an increasing number of disillusioned negotiators.
Peace in Syria is finished; and those who decide to go to Sochi do not really represent Syria, but rather their sponsors and backers… and here is the terrible tragedy.
This article was first published in Asharq Al-Awsat.
Eyad Abu Shakra (also written as Ayad Abou-Chakra) began his media career in 1973 with Annahar newspaper in Lebanon. He joined Asharq Al-Awsat newspaper in the UK in 1979, occupying several positions including: Senior Editor, Managing Editor, and Head of Research Unit, as well as being a regular columnist. He has several published works, including books, chapters in edited books, and specialized articles, in addition to frequent regular TV and radio appearances. Eyad tweets @eyad1949.