Astana agreement: Will it come into effect?
On Jan. 24, the Astana talks for the settlement of the Syrian crisis, initiated by Russia and Turkey, were concluded. The talks come after a long pause since Vienna talks last year which lasted three days and failed due to the continuation of air strikes by Assad regime and its supporting militias violating the cease-fire agreement.
The last six years have shown that a political solution to the Syrian crisis is very difficult and complicated because of foreign intervention by a number of international parties in the course of events in the country.
But, did Astana set the background for a political solution in Syria?
What is positive in these talks is the seemingly Russian desire to end military operations in Syria and stop the financial bleeding. Also, the development of the Russian-Turkish relations in the political and economic fields paved the way for a significantly influential joint role in the Syrian file that could raise expectations of a successful implementation of the Astana outcomes. However, these two parties are not the only players in the Syrian arena.
The Iranians were full of anger regarding Astana talks. They have the entire military dominance over Assad forces as well as over the military moves of the Afghani, Iraqi and Pakistani militias, in addition to the presence of thousands of Iranian soldiers and advisers in Syria.
Tehran is one of the keys to the success of Astana talks. "Triumphed" on the city of Aleppo, Iran is well aware that any realistic political solution would be at Assad’s expense. So, it will do its best to thwart or create complications in the implementation of the agreement. Although Iran cannot be a spoiler due to fear of the reaction of its Russian ally taking into account what the Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said two days before the launch of the Astana talks in that Assad regime would have fallen had Russia not intervened in a direct message to Assad and Iran.
Arab countries and mainly the Gulf ones, while not being invited to attend the talks in Astana, have received all the details through Turkey. Saudi Arabia and Qatar, two of the most active Arab states in Syria, felt at ease about the results of Astana. The core point for them is to weaken the Iranian influence in Syria, even if that means a strong influence for the Russians as Iran poses a direct threat to the security of the Gulf countries and therefore their loss of influence in Syria will later weaken their influence in Lebanon and Iraq.
The US, despite the presence of its ambassador in Kazakhstan as an observer, is not happy at all to be pushed far from the decisions for a solution in Syria. The Americans have been busy recently with the election results, at a time when the orientation of the new administration led by Donald Trump regarding the Syrian crisis is not clear yet. The Americans do not approve of excluding their most important ally in Syria, the Kurds, from Astana so they will indirectly try to derail the outcome of these talks, until the policy to be followed by the Trump administration throughout the Middle East and especially Syria is determined. The US in not included in the list of cease-fire observer countries, something that will make things very sensitive.
The European countries in turn were watching the Astana talks through the eyes of suspicion. They are not satisfied with the continuing Russian influence in Syria, fearing its expansion in the Middle East and thus stifling Europe’s south. Moreover, Europe does not want the refugee crisis to continue and get complicated; therefore, a political solution will restore calmness to the European borders and make the parties focus mainly on the elimination of the terrorist organization of ISIS.
Thus, we see that all the parties involved in the Syrian crisis are divided between supporting a political solution and the continuation of military operations. Therefore, things do not bode well. Even though the results might look positive, could they be implemented by Russia and Turkey on the ground? Will they face obstacles that will again lead to battles and conflicts? The solution, in my point of view, would be only through the return of the Americans in full power to the Middle East showing strength on all the parties, including Russia, putting an end to the Iranian arrogance in the Middle East and forcing them to sit on the table of negotiations to reach an agreement that will involve Assad’s exit from power.
Eva J. Koulouriotis is Greek political analyst specialized in Middle East. Twitter: @evacool_f, Facebook: @evakoulouriotis