With the exception of Turkey and Russia, no one even pretended to be satisfied with the outcome of the Sochi conference. Iran remained silent and the Syrian regime withdrew without approval or disapproval then rushed to take a fierce position against the Turkish attack on Afrin, after accusing the Kurds of treason!
As for the Kurds — who considered the Russians “betrayed” them and the Americans abandoned them — started demanding from the Syrian regime to intervene and defend their sovereignty!
The US back in the game
Erdogan, who has long threatened to intervene so as not to have a Kurdish state at the Turkish borders, has received Russian approval. The Russians consider the US declaration of training a Kurdish force of 30,000 as indicative of its support for Kurdish aspirations in northern and eastern Syria, thus along the Turkish-Syrian border.
In the beginning, the US and European observers did not agree with each other as they thought that this meant that Americans would withdraw after the fall of the ISIS and its threats, especially as the US military stated that the new Kurdish force is intended to preserve the security of the area so that ISIS would not resurface! But US Secretary of State Tillerson is no longer talking about any US withdrawal, but is linking its withdrawal to the Geneva track.
Iranians and the Assad regime are not pleased that Russia continues to link Sochi and Geneva, which revives the talk of the departure of foreign militias from SyriaRadwan al-Sayed
Therefore, the US has taken on a new policy of rivalry with Russia in that it has raised its objections to the Sochi Conference. The US position now not only talks about bringing an end to the ISIS, but also the fate of Assad, the continuance of the Geneva track, the reduction of Iranian presence in Syria and has even taken up the case of the renewed use of chemical weapons.
It has joined in the French condemnation of the bombing of Idlib and the eastern Ghouta and has raised the issue about the siege and the starvation.
Thus the Americans and the French have somehow started to re-impose their pressure on Russians plans regarding the future of Syria. This has forced the Russians (who brought De Mistura to Sochi but on his own terms) to say that Geneva will remain the baseline for negotiations.
The US-Russia conflict has resurfaced even as the two sides are strictly avoiding a collision. The two major parties have obligations. Both Turkey and Iran are annoying to the Russians and the Americans.
The Russia-Iran tiff
However, Americans seem very confused about the Afrin incursion, and they would become increasingly confused if the Turks approached Manbaj. Erdogan had separated the two operations after having linked them. But relations between the Turks and the Americans are likely to worsen.
Russians, who have withdrawn from Tel Rifaat to allow Erdogan’s army to move are keen to upset Americans by pushing Erdogan toward Manbaj, after Americans’ lost their credibility as they abandoned their Kurdish allies there.
Iranians are annoying to the Russians, despite cooperating with them on the Syrian issue. Iranians and the regime aspire to control Idlib and the eastern Ghouta. They are getting the Russians out of there as they plan their move forward toward the Golan and for developing a missile industry in Syria and Lebanon, which was what Netanyahu complained about to the Russians during his visit to Moscow few days ago.
Iranians (and the Syrian regime) are not pleased that Moscow continues to link Sochi and Geneva, which renews the political transition talk and most importantly the talk of the departure of foreign militias from Syria.
Difficult kettle of fish
This frustration does not hide two facts: The first is that the major cards are still in the hands of the Russian and the US parties, the second is that the American restriction on Russians is no longer limited to defaming it on the international stage, but they also have forces on the ground, not only in the Kurds, but also over than 2,000 American soldiers.
Moreover, the Americans along with their allies control the oil and water rich areas in northern and eastern Syria. They have bases in those areas, and on the Iraqi-Syrian border.
Thus, the Syrian crisis is still very complicated. Russia (along with Iran and Turkey) have made gains in Astana and Sochi as well. But the Americans are still holding some ground, and their influence on Syria’s political and military opposition has increased.
Jordanians and Saudis tend to adopt their point of view on Geneva, the comprehensive cease-fire, paying attention to the refugees and detainees issues, and the siege and starvation problems.
This article is also available in Arabic.
Radwan al-Sayed is a Lebanese thinker and writer who attained a bachelor degree from the Faculty of Theology at al-Azhar University and a PhD in Philosophy from the University of Tübingen in Germany. He has been a scholar of Islamic studies for decades and is the former editor-in-chief of the quarterly al-Ijtihad magazine. Radwan is also the author of many books and has written for Arab dailies such as al-Ittihad, al-Hayat and ash-Sharq al-Awsat.