Next rounds in the Astana process

By A. Dunn

Following the results of the fifth round of talks in Astana, the head of the Russian delegation Alexander Lavrentiev said that the military of the three guarantor countries (Russia, Iran and Turkey) almost 100 percent agreed on de-escalation zones in Homs and East Guta, and at the level of expert working groups the process The definition of these zones has already been completed.

"The fact that they decided to postpone the signing of the document on the creation of zones of de-escalation in three districts, that is, in the Idliba area, in the Homs district and in eastern Guta, this phenomenon is temporary. I hope that in the very near future we will come to this decision, "the head of the Russian delegation said. According to him, the parties will sign a complete package of seven de-escalation documents already during the next round of talks, which is scheduled for the end of August. At the same time, Lavrentiev noted that the documents will be signed at a higher level.The main reason for the lack of signed documents lies in the practical plane of delineation. Particularly complex are the zones of de-escalation in the north, where Turkey's positions are also strong in the south of the country, where certain issues are with the Americans. So Turkey asked for extra time to discuss and agree on the exact boundaries of the zones. According to Lavrentiev, Moscow and Tehran agreed to this, preferring not to put pressure on Turkey.

It is interesting that before the talks in Astana, Russia's Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu held talks with Turkish President Erdogan in Istanbul, where they discussed, among other things, the boundaries of de-escalation zones in northern Syria in the province of Idlib, where Turkey's positions are strong. It is quite obvious that one of the goals of Shoigu's visit was to agree on the highest level positions of Russia and Turkey on this issue on the eve of the Astana talks. However, judging by the fact that the sides did not sign any documents in Astana, the purpose of the visit was not achieved. Moreover, Turkey began preparing a new special operation in the Syrian canton of Afrin, controlled by Kurdish self-defense units. The Turkish Sabah newspaper reported with reference to its sources that preparations for the operation have already been completed, and the first targets of the Turkish army will be the city of Tel-Rifat and the Minak airbase. In total, about 20,000 Turkish servicemen and militants loyal to them are expected to participate in the operation. Turkish troops have already begun to shell the settlements of the canton of Afrin. This topic was also discussed at the meeting of Shoigu and Erdogan.

As a result, until the next round of talks scheduled for the last week of August, the situation in northern Syria may change, and with it the boundaries of the de-escalation zone. Apparently, Moscow and Ankara cannot agree on differentiation of influence in the north of Syria. According to one estimate, the parties agree on an exchange: the Afrin controlled by the Syrian Kurds will be surrendered to the Turks, and Turkey will help Russia return Idlib to Assad's control. According to other information, the Kurds agree with the Syrian government and Russia that they will let Assad's troops into Afrin to avoid a Turkish attack. Anyway, both scenarios can make big changes both in the situation on the ground and the definition of the zone of de-escalation in the north of Syria, and in the relations between Russia and Turkey. In this regard, the situation in the north of the country in two months can change greatly and will affect the signing of the final documents on the zones of deescalation, which is scheduled for late August.

In any case, the idea of de-escalation zones is supported by all major players, which gives it a great chance of success. Therefore, we should not expect an escalation as a result of the fact that the parties could not finalize the documents on these zones at this stage. It is also worth emphasizing that the meeting between Putin and Trump in Germany confirmed their commitment to reaching agreements.

Following the meeting between Putin and Trump in Hamburg on the margins of the G-20 summit, the parties agreed on the establishment of a ceasefire in southwestern Syria. This agreement has been achieved separately from the four de-escalation zones that Russia, Turkey and Iran agreed upon in May 2017 in Astana. It is important to note that the southern part of Syria is one of their problem areas in terms of reaching a consensus between Russia and the US for several reasons. First, Washington has its own de-escalation zone, near the city of at-Tanf (on the border of Syria, Jordan and Iraq), where it trains opposition forces and where in the past two months there have been US attacks on pro-government forces. Secondly, both Jordan and Israel repeatedly expressed their discontent and fears about the strengthening of the influence of the Iranian forces in southern Syria. As a result, Moscow and Washington, together with Jordan (which is also a participant in the Astana process), agreed to establish another zone of truce in south-west Syria.

On the one hand, this confirms the increased role of the United States in Syria, and Washington's desire to secure its allies. On the other hand, it confirms Moscow's desire to make concessions, creating a common platform for further actions in Syria.
 
 

 
 
12.07.2017
 
 

 

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