On Monday, the capital of Kazakhstan witnessed a new round of Syrian peace talks that was initiated by Russia. In sharp contrast with the meetings that were organized by the United Nations in Geneva, in Astana, it was not about how to resolve the Syrian conflict as a whole, but about the preservation of the frail ceasefire in Syria that has been in effect for almost a month. Such political topics as the possible interim government, new elections or the fate of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad have been deemed too early to discuss. A truly important point of the negotiations Astana was the establishment of a tripartite monitoring mechanism, that would allow Russia, Iran and Turkey to guarantee the upholding of a truce in the Syrian Arab Republic.
In a spite of a list of difficulties that the negotiators had to face and often divergent positions of the parties involved in the Syrian conflict, however, the meeting in Astana has marked a new balance of powers in Syria, manifesting the dominant role that Russia is playing the region these days, along with the failure of the US designs due to the short sighted policies pursued by the Obama administration. These facts are recognized and partially admitted by both the German Die Welt and the British The Guardian, along with a number of other media sources.
It must be clear for anyone at this stage that Russia and Turkey together with Iran are pursuing the same goals, therefore they are sincere in their desire to find a solution to the bitter civil war in Syria. In turn, the US had been occupying a waiting position for a really long time on the negotiations, which resulted in Washington being dropped out of the discussion of the Syrian future.
Syrian rebel factions that have taken their place at the negotiating table in Astana were determined to negotiate their terms aggressively, while being convinced that they’ve got an upper hand on the field of battle. But as a matter of fact, they have not, since the Syrian army have finally managed to push them against the wall. The last major pillar of their power in the north of Syria – is the province of Idlib, where Fattah al-Sham still plays a noticeable role. Therefore, anyone who fails to distance themselves from radical Islamists and sign an agreement with Russia within a short time frame, will perish together with ISIS jihadists.
While the task of holding formal direct talks between Damascus and the opposition on the prospects of conflict settlement in the Arab Republic hasn’t been achieved, however, the negotiations themselves may be regarded as a major success. And, although the degree of hostility was high, the parties still managed to demonstrate their rational approach. Both the opposition and Damascus have displayed full understanding of the situation in the country and the initial distrust shown by the Syrian armed opposition vanished pretty fast. The delegations of the rebels and the government in Astana was headed by the same people that chaired the meeting Geneva in February 2016: Mohammed Alloush of Jaish al-Islam and Syria’s permanent representative to the UN, Bashar Jaafari. However, if they refused to sit in the same room before the Astana talks and the negotiations were conducted indirectly, now the two camps met face-to-face not on the field of battle, but at the negotiation table. And that’s a major breakthrough.
At this point everyone understands that the bloodshed in Syria has brought nothing but hardship and destruction, and that the only solution to the Syrian crisis can be achieved through negotiations. In organizing and conducting the meetings in Astana, Russia, Turkey and Iran come together, despite the ifference of approaches that they had towards the crisis. Therefore, Astana marks the beginning of the settlement of the Syrian crisis. The format of negotiations under the overview of the countries that are involved in the conflict and support the government (Russia and Iran) or the opposition (Turkey) has proven to be rational and has shown that the above mentioned states have a real say in the region.
Russia has handed a draft of the new Syrian constitution that it prepared to the representatives of opposition forces, thus demonstrating its desire to accelerate the peace-talks without interfering in the internal affairs of the country.
Following the talks, it was announced that the opposition groups that are stationed in Cairo and Riyadh were invited to Moscow to meet with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov on January 27. The meeting will include the representatives of an opposition group that is based in Moscow.
While everyone recognizes that peace talks in Astana can hardly be called the primary tool for the conflict settlement, there’s little doubt that they will have a positive impact on the upcoming meeting in Geneva.