How Putin’s “troika” is pushing the US out of the Middle East


November 21 , 2017 – Fort Russ News – 

Op-ed by Sergey Aksenov – translated by Inessa Sinchougova

The future of Syria, perhaps, has been decided on November 22 during the talks of the presidents of Russia, Iran and Turkey in Sochi. On the agenda of the meeting was a political settlement in this country, after the defeat of ISIS. The United States was not invited to the show, but they can still intervene in the plans of the Moscow coalition.

Preparation for the summit was thoroughly conducted. On the eve of the negotiations of the presidents, meetings were held by the chiefs of the General Staff of the three countries and their foreign ministers.

The initiator of the meeting was Vladimir Putin, wanting coordinate his plans for the Syrian settlement with key regional players. Telephone conversations were also held with the leaders of Egypt, Israel, Saudi Arabia and Qatar.

An important stage in the preparation for the summit was a meeting with Bashar Assad on November 20. The Syrian President thanked Russia for saving his country, claimed the defeat of the Islamists and announced the forthcoming political process. True, the contours or guidelines of the settlement have not yet been specified.

A separate point of preparation for the Sochi meeting was the telephone conversation between Putin and Donald Trump, which happened the day before. Earlier, during the APEC summit, both presidents adopted a joint statement on Syria. The US president in his usual manner, called this conversation “remarkable.”

Many Russian media have concluded that some important agreements have been reached with the United States on Syria. However, according to the columnist Eduard Limonov, there is no political content in the agreement with Trump. “He simply repeats the template phrases. Do not be suckers, “- warns the writer.

Expecting Trump to fundamentally change the US position on Syria is a long shot. The State Department has recently, and once more, assigned to Moscow the responsibility for Assad’s alleged chemical weapons. In addition, Trump is closely followed and ridiculed by his eternal opponent, John McCain.

The American press reproaches its president for the lack of a counter strategy in the Middle East. “The United States has renounced the role of an influential diplomatic player in Syria, passing it to Russia. Ultimately, the US contributes to a political process in which Russia will be the main engine, which does not meet the strategic goals of America, ” writes WSJ.

According to Semyon Bagdasarov , director of the Middle East and Central Asia Study Center, there are more questions than answers in connection with the Sochi summit.

– Let’s look at what interests the parties are pursuing. Russia wants a cessation of hostilities so that we have two military bases there – Khmeinim and Tartus. It’s in our interests for it to be calm there. Tehran wants complete control of Damascus and Syria in general – this will end in conflict. What about Hezbollah, which is now in Iraq, too?

Relations between Russia and the US are extremely bad. How in this case will the Kurds behave? Although they now understand that it depends on Russia whether the operation of the Turkish army will be conducted.

Cases of bombardment of Damascus have become more frequent in recent days. It is being fired at from the Eastern Ghouta, and this is a zone of de-escalation. Aleppo is also at times under attacked – and all this comes from de-escalation zones, for which Turkey is responsible, from Idlib and parts of the neighboring province.

A good decision was made in the south-west of Syria, when the monitoring center was established by Russia, Jordan and the United States. But Israel is not happy there. It says that there is not enough rigidity in relation to the Iranian and pro-Iranian formations, which are located 20-25 kilometers from the Israeli border. How can all of this be reconciled?

Not to mention the fact that almost a third of the territory of Syria is controlled by the Federation of Northern Syria, whose weapons are supplied by the Americans.

A snowball of questions.

In parallel with the Sochi meeting, the meeting of the Syrian opposition in Saudi Riyadh begins today too. What can you comment?

– Obviously, it will be of a concentrated anti-Iranian character.

For the success of negotiations, a formula is needed on which one could negotiate. No one in the opposition will stop at some kind of active action against Assad, until they realize that they are getting some kind of role in the state system of Syria. While I do not see the possibility of such a scheme.

It’s not even in Assad personally. If there remains a president in Syria with absolute power, then how can this happen? And second … How will Damascus build relations with the regions? Will there be autonomy among the Kurds? Or maybe someone else?

What will be the fate of the armed forces of all other states present in Syria? The US, Iran, Turkey, Denmark, the Israeli advisers there? There are a lot of questions, the answers to which I do not yet see.

Nevertheless, from the meeting in Sochi, many are waiting for the final decision of the future of Syria, and, without the participation of the US …

– The leaders of the countries meet, they say good words, shake hands, and then everyone works in their own direction. Today they met, with the intention of Americans not participating. Well, and what of it? The Americans are already there. Five thousand US troops are on the territory of Syria, not counting their allies – British, Germans, Danes. They will not leave. Correctly, Erdogan said that if the war in Syria is over, the Turkish army will withdraw, but then let the US and Russia leave too.

The adviser to the director of the Russian Institute for Strategic Studies, Elena Suponina hopes that a political settlement in Syria will still take place.

– The situation in Syria is still complicated, but nevertheless for the first time the hope for an end of this conflict has dawned. What has changed now? Now most states that have some influence on the events in Syria are interested in achieving peace. There is agreement even between previously irreconcilable rivals. For example, between the Arab states of the Persian Gulf.

Although disagreements also exist. Americans seem to declare an interest in peace, but they do not mind that this conflict drags on. There is a risk that, after possible arrangements in Sochi, Washington will begin to put sticks in the wheel. If Moscow insists on full control of Damascus over the whole territory, then the Americans will not leave Syria. They want to physically gain a foothold in a number of districts.

To achieve their goals, the Americans are clearly going to use the energy of the Kurds, their desire for greater independence. Kurds have brilliantly shown themselves in the fight against terrorism in Syria, but their aspirations for independence are aroused by Turkey and Iran. Now we see their detachments in the east of Syria, where they closely cooperate with the United States – who, unlike Russia, are there without any legal basis.Nevertheless, the de-escalation zones created by the participants in today’s meeting are working. It really is calmer there. Now it is possible to talk about a political settlement.

In turn, the head of the Institute on the United States and Canada, Pavel Sharikov, is confident that the United States will not back down from its anti-Assad position.

– The American and Russian positions on Syria have long dispersed, or more precisely, they never met. Contradictions were there always. The fact that the Russian leadership now has the potential to invite interested parties to resolve the Syrian conflict does not at all mean that the United States will go into the background and do nothing. They can do something that Russia does not like.

Apparently, yesterday’s phone call by Putin to Trump was designed to mitigate possible opposition?

– Yes, Trump’s enthusiastic response about this conversation was made clear. But as practice has shown, the current US president is far from being in agreement with a number of political forces in Syria. Any foreign policy action, even if not necessarily affecting Russia, will be met with strong resistance. Therefore, I would not place high hopes on the personal relations between Trump and Putin, but rely more pessimistically on US-Russian relations as a whole, when it comes to the next step in Syria. 

Inessa Sinchougova is an Editor and Journalist at Fort Russ News, as well as a research fellow and translator of the Belgrade based think-tank, the Center for Syncretic Studies. She was educated at Victoria University of Wellington (New Zealand), in the field of Political Science and was previously employed in Marketing and Communications Strategy for a Multi-National Corporation. She runs a popular YouTube channel for translations of key Russian Foreign Policy figures and appears regularly on other alternative media channels.  

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