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4 implications of the latest Astana Agreement on Idlib, Syria

What looks like a ‘sell out’ is actually a far more nuanced move on the part of the effectively Russian led Astana Group.

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The Astana Group has concluded a meeting whose primary result was the establishment of a new so-called ‘de-escalation zone’ to cover Idlib Governorate. While the agreement was made jointly with Russia, Iran and Turkey, in respect of Idlib, Turkey is going to take the lead as Turkish forces and proxies already have a substantial presence in Idlib, following on from Turkey’s Operation Euphrates Shield.

Many are commenting that this development is somehow a ‘surrender’ to Turkey and its jihadist proxies. This has clearly concerned many who seek a full restoration of Syrian sovereignty. As the full restoration of Syrian sovereignty over the entirety of its territory is the only just and legal resolution to the conflict, it is important not to see the developments at Astana as something which will forever threaten such a thing from occurring in the future.

In the broader sense, however, the new Idlib de-escalation zone is about something more strategic and wide reaching.

The fact that Syria, the so-called ‘opposition’, Russia, Iran and Turkey all agreed to the new de-escalation zone, means there is far more than meets the eye in respect of the latest agreement. As with all previous zones established by the Astana Group, the United States and its western/Gulf Arab allies were not involved.

Here are the major implications regarding this controversial de-escalation zone: 

1. Legitimising an anti-Kurdish Turkish presence in Syria 

While Turkey maintains occupational troops and proxies in Syria (against the letter of international law), Turkey’s withdrawal of support for so called opposition forces in Syria, is a fact that is not going to change. Even the Arab states of the Persian Gulf who have spent substantial sums of money on trying to overthrow the Syrian government, now admit that President Bashar al-Assad isn’t going anywhere. Furthermore, Israel’s clear panic over the fact that the Arab Socialist Ba’ath party will remain in power in Damascus, is a de-facto admission on the part of Tel Aviv, that Israel also didn’t get its wish in Syria.

The war against terrorists in Syria is one which Syria is on the cusp of winning outright and no one is so foolish as to not understand this. While America’s neo-con Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley once again uttered the infamous ‘Assad must go’ mantra, history shows that if anything, this will do more damage to Nikki Haley’s ambitions than to those of Syria’s President.

If anyone assumes that Erdogan is more foolish than Nikki Haley, they are making a wildly incorrect assumption.

Meanwhile, more moderate voices in Washington including Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and to a degree Donald Trump, have all but conceded that Assad has won. During the election campaign, Trump indicated his desire to see Assad beat the terrorists and at an emotional level, it does not seem Trump has changed sides.

The next big question-mark for Syria therefore, is not ‘Assad’ versus the jihadists working for regimes whose mantra had been ‘Assad must go’, rather the issue is Syria versus the Kurdish proxies of the United States.

READ MORE: Syria, Turkey and the Kurds–A Devil’s Triangle that only Russia can navigate

Of all the major powers which are part of the Syrian conflict, legal or otherwise, Turkey is without a doubt the most anti-Kurd. Turkey sees the presence of a would-be semi or fully-independent Kurdish entity anywhere along its borders as a grave threat to its national security. To this end, Turkey has stated that it will not allow an independent Kurdish entity to form on its borders in a clear warning to the United States.

This has the potential to put Turkey completely at odds with the United States, should the US come out and unambiguously call for a Kurdish state in Syria, something which looks increasingly likely as this would be the only way that the US could maintain a presence in Syria without facing tremendous opposition on many fronts.

As many nationalist Kurds seek to create a Kurdish entity on Syrian territory which hugs the Turkish border from Iraq to the sea, Idlib is geographically well placed to launch attacks upon or otherwise stop any would-be Kurdish march west.

With Turkey now having a legitimised presence in Idlib, Turkey can do the lion’s share of the fighting against the Kurds without a great deal of ambiguity over its position. This would allow Syria to concentrate on working with her international partners like Russia, China and Iran on rebuilding the infrastructure of the majority of Syria, while allowing Russia to remain formally agnostic on the Kurdish nationalist issue.

2. Policing the un-policeable 

While most eyes have been on Deir ez-Zor and to a degree Raqqa, Idlib has turned into an actual civil war, not between the dwindling number of armed Syrian extremist Sunnis and the government, but a civil war among terrorist groups.

For months, various factions of al-Qaeda, the FSA and Muslim Brotherhood as well as sub-factions of each group have been fighting and killing one another in manners which are incredibly violent. Just yesterday, a so-called judge from an al-Qaeda faction was brutally murdered by members of a rival Salafist terror group.

In this sense, unless one was going to wage total war form the air on Idlib, something which could produce the deeply negative effect of killing civilians, Syria and Russia seems partly content for the terrorist factions of Idlib to continue killing each other before cleaning up the proverbial mess.

It is not clear if Turkey wants to get its hands dirty in this mess. It would appear that Turkey wants to save its soldiers and jihadist loyalists for a fight with the Kurds. This after all is a fight which actually matters most to Turkey. In this sense, Turkey’s proxies in Idlib, are best thought of as mercenaries who will fight whatever battle Turkey asks them to fight, so long as various agreements regarding funds and supplies are maintained. As many are ethnic Turkmen, there will be no love lost between Themistocles and Kurds.

In this sense, while perhaps Turkey along with her Astana partners may attempt to go after some of the warring factions of jihadists, in the short term, it is likely that Turkey will merely try to contain the jihadist civil war in Idlib, making sure that it doesn’t spill over into other areas of interests to Turkey and her Astana partners.

3. Strengthening Russo-Turkish cooperation at the expense of America’s relationship with Turkey 

As the United States continues to grow further from Turkey, Russia seeks to continue to display symbolic victories of the Ankara-Moscow partnership, whose success has defied not only expectations but also history.

Coming shortly after the completion of the S-400 defensive missile system sale from Russia to Turkey, the Idlib de-escalation zone is in this sense, a geo-political signpost of Russo-Turkish partnership, one whose long term geo-political implications are more far reaching than they are in respect of the situation on the ground in Syria.

4. The first step in Syria-Turkey reconsecration

In many ways, the most long term development to come out of the latest Astana talks, is that Turkey and Syria have quietly taken their first small step towards reconciliation.

With Syria signing off on the agreement, it means that Syria has quietly legitimised a Turkish presence in Syria, one which is clearly not aimed at regime change, but one which will certainly become one that fends off Kurdish nationalist advances, something that is in the interests of both Turkey and Syria.

While both Presidents Assad and Erdogan are insistent that they do not seek dialogue with one another, this agreement paves the way for such a thing in the future. Ultimately, the two will have to speak again. However, this process will be slow and gradual. It will almost certainly only be possible with the intervention of countries which can speak with both Assad and Erodgan. Such countries are of course Russia and Iran. In this sense, the latest Astana talks have quietly accomplished this goal.

CONCLUSION: 

In the short term, the Idlib de-escalation zone will not change the overall realities on the ground in Syria. At the moment, several jihadist terrorist groups are too busy killing one another in Idlib to meaningfully impact the salutation in the wider Syrian conflict.

In the medium term, Turkey now has something of a legitimate mandate to attack Kurdish forces in Syria without having to invoke the Caroline Test or having to specifically coordinate such military moves against the Kurds with Damascus.

In the long term, Turkey and Russia have yet again solidified the fact that their partnership can produce more visible results than what remains of Turkey’s alliance with its fellow NATO members.

Finally, the fact that Syria has agreed to the creation of the de-escalation zone in Idlib, means that the gradual process of reconciling Erdogan’s Turkey with Assad’s Syria, has quietly taken its first small step.

As both Assad and Erdogan will almost certainly be in charge of their countries for the foreseeable future, it will be essential for some sort of reconciliation to eventually occur. While the world is arguing over the short term effects of the latest deal to come out of Astana, they have ignored the most important long term development, which is actually a good thing, as it avoids the kind of publicity that could make any gradual Turkish-Syrian reconciliation regress.

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Terry Ross
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Terry Ross

Seems that pragmatism is winning in Syria. This is something that the US has not learned as it has traditionally resorted to brute military force and economic arm twisting.

RoseCShade
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RoseCShade

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KindraKCurrie

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niveb
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niveb

It is impossible for any state desiring to be sovereign to ally itself with the USA. The US ruling class expects its ‘allies’ to submit to it when required. The rulers of many countries-Jordan for example, Poland and the UK- are quite happy with such an arrangement that guarantees them powerful assistance in maintaining power domestically should those that they exploit revolt. The US sees its relationships with Latin America as the model for the rest of the world. It forgets that the basis of its dictation in Latin America was always racist-the rulers that it propped up and defended… Read more »

GeorgeG
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GeorgeG

Beautifully insightful, Mr. Garrie. Some hilarious bloopers snuck their way in, however. My favorites: 1. Themistocles and Kurds and 2. Syria-Turkey reconsecration. And some caveats. One that goes back to previous articles, Is the US really supporting the SDF/Kurds or will they drop them?, is, to my mind, by no means clear. Nikki Haley’s, as I see it, incantation, “not with Assad”, is basically code for “I support official Israeli policy, which wants a Syraq Kurdistan. This week there was a lot of on-the-ground confusion about the SDF. The blockade of Deir Ezzor was lifted by the SAA, and *then*… Read more »

Gonzogal
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Gonzogal

“If they are not determined to stay, they will have to leave and say, “look, we did our best…, and it just wasn’t good enough. Assad won, so the Russians won, and without going for all-out war, we were not able to stop them.”” The US will NEVER say in ANY way that they were beaten, “lost, were not good enough”. It is not even in their vocabulary. How in the world could the “indispensable” nation with the “world’s greatest military” lose to the small SAA and its allies? They wont stand for the humiliation! Plus, because they are fighting… Read more »

GeorgeG
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GeorgeG

Fair enough as an assessment, Gonzugal. There are aspects of this that I don’t think are appropriate to discuss publicly, such as what you suggest with what the US would have to tell Israel concerning Syria. I don’t understand why the US would have to say anything: the facts on the ground speak for themselves. And, while there are many,many crazies in Israel, there are not as many stupid people. You do seem to agree, however, that neither US nor Israeli invincibility is a law of nature. Speaking of nature, I am reminded of Edgar Allen Poe’s “Maelstrom” story: two… Read more »

Gonzogal
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Gonzogal

Interesting illustration of your point. Thank you.

“They can “accomodate” to the new natural phenomenon, but they cannot escape the maelstrom, no matter how much they scream and threaten.” And like the “second brother”, they survive….only to come back and fight again, or by trying to set up a client state (Kurds) to do their bidding and continue the war for them.

GeorgeG
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GeorgeG

Chuckle… — I guess I need a different image again. “Come back and fight again”: sure, that is theoretically possible if the “boxing ring” remains the same. The way I see it — of course, it might still take some time, but not too long, to see the shape of the new universe, even though it is already far more than just an “idea” –they — US, Israhell et al. — will not even exist as they are in the new universe. Just imagine and trace back the long succession of empires: first, we know that they always collapse, but… Read more »

Gonzogal
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Gonzogal

“they — US, Israhell et al. — will not even exist as they are in the new universe”

I will change an expression in my response: “From your keyboard to gods ears” 🙂

Daisy Adler
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Daisy Adler

Al-Qaeda in Idlib denounced the establishment of the de-escalation zone and vowed to continue fighting against the country’s army. Make their day, by turning them to dust.

samo war
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samo war

world peace is mafia ?

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Macron cuts ski holiday short, vowing crack down on Yellow Vests (Video)

The Duran Quick Take: Episode 109.

Alex Christoforou

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The Duran’s Alex Christoforou and Editor-in-Chief Alexander Mercouris discuss the 18th consecutive week of Yellow Vests protests in Paris. Following last weeks lower participation, Saturday’s Yellow Vests in Paris gathered larger crowds, with various outbreaks of violence and rioting that has been blamed on extreme elements, who French authorities claim have infiltrated the movement.

“Act XVIII” of the protests has shown that the Yellow Vests have not given up. France’s Champs-Élysées boulevard was where most of the violence occurred, with the street being left in a pile of broken glass and flames.

One day after Paris was set ablaze, French President Emmanuel Macron cut his ski holiday short, returning to Paris and vowing to take “strong decisions” to prevent more violence.

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Via Zerohedge


Paris awoke on Sunday to smouldering fires, broken windows and looted stores following the 18th consecutive Saturday of Yellow Vest protests.

Around 200 people were arrested according to BFM TV, while about 80 shops near the iconic Champs Elysees had been damaged and/or looted according to AFP, citing Champs Elysees committee president Jean-Noel Reinhardt.

The 373-year-old Saint Sulpice Roman Catholic church was set on fire while people were inside, however nobody was injured. The cause of the fire remains unknown.

The riots were so severe that French President Emmanuel Macron cut short a vacation at the La Mongie ski resort in the Hautes-Pyrénées following a three-day tour of East Africa which took him to Djibouti, Ethiopia and Kenya.

Macron skied on Friday, telling La Depeche du Midi “I’m going to spend two-three days here to relax, to find landscapes and friendly faces,” adding “I’m happy to see the Pyrenees like that, radiant, although I know it was more difficult at Christmas” referring to the lack of snow in December.

In response to Saturday’s violence, Macron said over Twitter that “strong decisions” were coming to prevent more violence.

Macron said some individuals — dubbed “black blocs” by French police forces — were taking advantage of the protests by the Yellow Vest grassroots movement to “damage the Republic, to break, to destroy.” Prime Minister Edouard Philippe said on Twitter that those who excused or encouraged such violence were complicit in it. –Bloomberg

The French President has family ties in the Hautes-Pyrénées, including Bagnères de Bigorre where his grandmother lived. He is a regular visitor to the region.

Emmanuel Macron (2ndL), head of the political movement In Marche! (Onwards!) And candidate for the 2017 presidential election, and his wife Brigitte Trogneux (L) have lunch April 12, 2017 (Reuters)

 

 

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Vesti calls out Pompeo on lying about Russia invading Ukraine [Video]

Secretary Pompeo displayed either stunning ignorance or a mass-attack of propaganda about what must be the most invisible war in history.

Seraphim Hanisch

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After the 2014 Maidan revolution and the subsequent secessions of Lugansk and Donetsk in Ukraine, and after the rejoining of Crimea with its original nation of Russia, the Western media went on a campaign to prove the Russia is (/ was / was about to / had already / might / was thinking about / was planning to … etc.) invade Ukraine. For the next year or so, about every two weeks, internet news sources like Yahoo! News showed viewers pictures of tanks, box trucks and convoys to “prove” that the invasion was underway (or any of the other statuses confirming the possibilities above stated.) This information was doubtless provided to US Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo.

Apparently, Secretary Pompeo believed this ruse, or is being paid to believe this ruse because in a speech recently, he talked about it as fact:

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo called Russia’s annexation of Crimea and aggression in eastern Ukraine an attempt to gain access to Ukraine’s oil and gas reserves.

He stated this at IHS Markit’s CERAWeek conference in Houston, the USA, Reuters reports.

Pompeo urged the oil industry to work with the Trump administration to promote U.S. foreign policy interests, especially in Asia and in Europe, and to punish what he called “bad actors” on the world stage.

The United States has imposed harsh sanctions in the past several months on two major world oil producers, Venezuela and Iran.

Pompeo said the U.S. oil-and-gas export boom had given the United States the ability to meet energy demand once satisfied by its geopolitical rivals.

“We don’t want our European allies hooked on Russian gas through the Nord Stream 2 project, any more than we ourselves want to be dependent on Venezuelan oil supplies,” Pompeo said, referring to a natural gas pipeline expansion from Russia to Central Europe.

Pompeo called Russia’s invasion of Ukraine an attempt to gain access to the country’s oil and gas reserves.

Although the state-run news agency Vesti News often comes under criticism for rather reckless, or at least, extremely sarcastic propaganda at times, here they rightly nailed Mr. Pompeo’s lies to the wall and billboarded it on their program:

The news anchors even made a wisecrack about one of the political figures, Konstantin Zatulin saying as a joke that Russia plans to invade the United States to get its oil. They further noted that Secretary Pompeo is uneducated about the region and situation, but they offered him the chance to come to Russia and learn the correct information about what is going on.

To wit, Russia has not invaded Ukraine at all. There is no evidence to support such a claim, while there IS evidence to show that the West is actively interfering with Russia through the use of Ukraine as a proxyWhile this runs counter to the American narrative, it is simply the truth. Ukraine appears to be the victim of its own ambitions at this point, for while the US tantalizes the leadership of the country and even interferes with the Orthodox Church in the region, the country lurches towards a presidential election with three very poor candidates, most notably the one who is president there now, Petro Poroshenko.

However, the oil and gas side of the anti-Russian propaganda operation by the US is significant. The US wishes for Europe to buy gas from American suppliers, even though this is woefully inconvenient and expensive when Russia is literally at Europe’s doorstep with easy supplies. However, the Cold War Party in the United States, which still has a significant hold on US policy making categorizes the sale of Russia gas to powers like NATO ally Germany as a “threat” to European security.

It is interesting that Angela Merkel herself does not hold this line of thinking. It is also interesting and worthy of note, that this is not the only NATO member that is dealing more and more with Russia in terms of business. It underscores the loss of purpose that the North Atlantic Treaty Organization suffers now since there is no Soviet Union to fight.

However, the US remains undaunted. If there is no enemy to fight, the Americans feel that they must create one, and Russia has been the main scapegoat for American power ambitions. More than ever now, this tactic appears to be the one in use for determining the US stance towards other powers in the world.

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Ariel Cohen explains Washington’s latest foreign policy strategy [Video]

Excellent interview Ariel Cohen and Vladimir Solovyov reveals the forces at work in and behind American foreign policy.

Seraphim Hanisch

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While the American people and press are pretty much complicit in reassuring the masses that America is the only “right” superpower on earth, and that Russia and China represent “enemy threats” for doing nothing more than existing and being successfully competitive in world markets, Russia Channel One got a stunner of a video interview with Ariel Cohen.

Who is Ariel Cohen? Wikipedia offers this information about him:

Ariel Cohen (born April 3, 1959 in Crimea in YaltaUSSR) is a political scientist focusing on political risk, international security and energy policy, and the rule of law.[1] Cohen currently serves as the Director of The Center for Energy, Natural Resources and Geopolitics (CENRG) at the Institute for Analysis of Global Security (IAGS). CENRG focuses on the nexus between energy, geopolitics and security, and natural resources and growth. He is also a nonresident senior fellow at the Atlantic Council, within the Global Energy Center and the Dinu Patriciu Eurasia Center.[2] Until July 2014, Dr. Cohen was a senior research fellow at the Heritage Foundation in Washington, D.C. He specializes in Russia/Eurasia, Eastern Europe, and the Middle East.

Cohen has testified before committees of the U.S. Congress, including the Senate and House Foreign Relations Committees, the House Armed Services Committee, the House Judiciary Committee and the Helsinki Commission.[4] He also served as a Policy Adviser with the National Institute for Public Policy’s Center for Deterrence Analysis.[5] In addition, Cohen has consulted for USAID, the World Bank and the Pentagon.[6][7]

Cohen is a frequent writer and commentator in the American and international media. He has appeared on CNN, NBC, CBS, FOX, C-SPAN, BBC-TV and Al Jazeera English, as well as Russian and Ukrainian national TV networks. He was a commentator on a Voice of America weekly radio and TV show for eight years. Currently, he is a Contributing Editor to the National Interest and a blogger for Voice of America. He has written guest columns for the New York TimesInternational Herald TribuneChristian Science Monitor, the Washington Post, the Wall Street Journal, the Washington Times, EurasiaNet, Valdai Discussion Club,[8] and National Review Online. In Europe, Cohen’s analyses have appeared in Kommersant, Izvestiya, Hurriyet, the popular Russian website Ezhenedelny Zhurnal, and many others.[9][10]

Mr. Cohen came on Russian TV for a lengthy interview running about 17 minutes. This interview, shown in full below, is extremely instructive in illustrating the nature of the American foreign policy directives such as they are at this time.

We have seen evidence of this in recent statements by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo regarding Russia’s “invasion” of Ukraine, and an honestly unabashed bit of fear mongering about China’s company Huawei and its forthcoming 5G networks, which we will investigate in more detail in another piece. Both bits of rhetoric reflect a re-polished narrative that, paraphrased, says to the other world powers,

Either you do as we tell you, or you are our enemy. You are not even permitted to out-compete with us in business, let alone foreign relations. The world is ours and if you try to step out of place, you will be dealt with as an enemy power.

This is probably justified paranoia, because it is losing its place. Where the United Stated used to stand for opposition against tyranny in the world, it now acts as the tyrant, and even as a bully. Russia and China’s reaction might be seen as ignoring the bully and his bluster and just going about doing their own thing. It isn’t a fight, but it is treating the bully with contempt, as bullies indeed deserve.

Ariel Cohen rightly points out that there is a great deal of political inertia in the matter of allowing Russia and China to just do their own thing. The US appears to be acting paranoid about losing its place. His explanations appear very sound and very reasonable and factual. Far from some of the snark Vesti is often infamous for, this interview is so clear it is tragic that most Americans will never see it.

The tragedy for the US leadership that buys this strategy is that they appear to be blinded so much by their own passion that they cannot break free of it to save themselves.

This is not the first time that such events have happened to an empire. It happened in Rome; it happened for England; and it happened for the shorter-lived empires of Nazi Germany and ISIS. It happens every time that someone in power becomes afraid to lose it, and when the forces that propelled that rise to power no longer are present. The US is a superpower without a reason to be a superpower.

That can be very dangerous.

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