The controversial move has sparked a great deal of debate, some measured and some outlandishly suggesting that Russia ‘sold out’ its Syrian partner.
Here are the key reasons why it was a masterful geo-political move by Russia that will help keep Syria safe, stable and sovereign.
1. It Simply Reinforces Existing Realities
Currently, Syria is operating under a Russian authored ceasefire which the UN Security unanimously passed late last year. Even Obama’s United States didn’t dare veto the Russian resolution.
The carefully worded ceasefire establishes a non-aggression agreement whereby the Syrian led anti-terrorist coalition and certain militant/terrorist groups are bound not to engage in combat. The biggest terrorist groups operating in Syria are not covered by the ceasefire. That means that fighting against groups like ISIS, al-Qaeda/Nusra and others can and indeed is still being fought by the coalition that includes Russia and Iran.
Today’s Memorandum creating safe-zones merely formalises certain areas that will be both literally and figuratively fenced off in order to bolster the existing ceasefire.
This will allow responsible parties like Syria, Russia and Iran to monitor the situation more closely as well as have an even clearer opportunity to fight and destroy the dangerous groups correctly not covered by the ceasefire.
2. Turkey and America Are Politically Neutralised in Syria
Turkey and America have both been pushing for the establishment of safe-zones which in effect are no fly zones. In the last months of the Obama administration, the US was pushing for US controlled no-fly zones that would have attempted to ground Syrian and Russian jets. This was totally unacceptable to both Russia and Syria and could have led to Russian and NATO planes shooting each other out of the sky. The consequences would have been dire.
The current situation sounds similar but is in fact very different. On paper,both Turkey and America have gotten what they want.
In reality, it means that Russia and Iran along with Turkey will be the enforcers of the safe-zones. Turkey as the ‘outsider’ partner in the Astana group is not about to drive a rift between Ankara on the one side and Moscow and Tehran on the other in such an overt fashion. If Turkey did, it would expose Turkey as a totally unreliable partner in the Astana format. The consequences of this would mean Turkey being forced out of the Astana format. It would not lead to the collapse of the Astana format. Turkey is outnumbered in more ways than one in this respect.
Turkey has effectively been backed against the wall.
Russia has put the ball in Erdogan’s court. Erdogan is now bound by an agreement to be enforced by countries whose role in Syria has been a positive one, one that supports the Syrian government and consequently the Syrian people.
To put it in more mercenary terms, Russia and Iran have ‘colonised’ the intellectual debate from Turkey and America. They now control the safe-zones which are in effect no-fly zones. This means that Turkey can not act unilaterally without breaking an accord which it is a joint signatory of.
It also means that Turkey and the US are now increasingly distant in terms of alignments in Syria. Turkey must now help enforce an agreement drafted without the United States. Turkey is in the ‘big boys club’, so to speak, but the biggest military force in NATO isn’t a member.
This is compounded by existing tensions that Turkeys and the US have created themselves due to America’s refusal to abandon Kurdish SFD forces and Turkey’s refusal to abandon attacking Kurdish forces. Trouble in NATO paradise is a phrase which comes to mind.
In one swift move, Russia and Iran have not only preserved the status quo in Syria, but have simultaneously clipped the wings of Turkey and isolated America from any attempts to move and shake events without risking a total war against Syria, Russia, Iran and even Turkey.
3. Syria Supports the Move
Syria’s chief diplomatic envoy Dr. Bashar al-Jaafari has conveyed Syria’s approval of the move. Syria is not about to support a move against its own interests, neither its short term nor long term interests.
Vladimir Putin made clear in his press conference with Turkish President Erdogan that no safe-zones could be established against the will of Syria. Putin has lived up to his word and Syria is not about to betray its on cause so late in the game.
Syria is winning the battle against terrorists on the ground . America’s illegal attack from the 6th of April has not retarded the progress of the Syrian Arab Army in this respect. Syria is supporting the move for the same reason Russia is. Syria, in supporting the Memorandum, has the opportunity to call Turkey’s bluff for the world to see and likewise call the bluff of the militant factions that are part of the Astana talks.
If the safe-zones fail, Syria is vindicated, if they succeed, Syria is one step closer to restoring normalcy.
4. The Militants/Terrorists Are Angry
The militant factions which are part of the Astana talks angrily stormed out of the session where the memorandum was signed by representatives of Russia, Iran and Turkey.
They know full well that their bluff has been called. Their talk of peace has been exposed as the sham that many all ready knew it was and that Syria had constantly said it was.
If the militants do not abide by the protocols of the soon to be established safe zones, the world will then see that their penultimate goal is conquest rather than peace. They will be unmasked as insurgents rather than ‘opposition forces’.
Syria will at long last be vindicated. This may likely happen sooner than expected.
In this sense, Russia, Iran and Syria can turn around to Turkey and the United States and have a big ‘I told you so’ moment. With such a diverse coalition of nations and organisations in favour of the agreement, those who are opposed are the isolated parties. They will have no leg to stand on. They will have to resort to either humility or unilateral war.
Much though the Trump administration is unpredictable, unilateral war seems incredibly unlikely at this stage.
5. It Has Real International Support
— UN Spokesperson (@UN_Spokesperson) May 4, 2017
Whilst the US acted unilaterally and illegally in its bombing of Syria, the Memorandum at Astana has been welcomed by the Secretary General of the United Nations.
An official statement from the UN reads,
“The Secretary-General is encouraged by the agreement today in Astana, Kazakhstan, by guarantor countries Iran, Russia and Turkey to de-escalate violence in key areas in Syria.
It will be crucial to see this agreement actually improve the lives of Syrians. The Secretary-General welcomes the commitments to ceasing the use of all weapons, particularly aerial assets; to rapid, safe, and unhindered humanitarian access; and to creating conditions for the delivery of medical aid and meeting civilians’ basic needs. The commitments made should not affect the rights of Syrians to seek and enjoy asylum.
The UN will continue to support de-escalation within the framework of the Security Council resolutions on Syria. The UN has also been proactively supporting discussions in Astana regarding detainees and humanitarian demining.
The Secretary-General welcomes the affirmation from the Astana meeting of the fundamental importance of a political solution and the full support expressed there for the UN-led intra-Syrian talks process in Geneva within the framework of Security Council resolution 2254.
The Secretary-General’s Special Envoy, Staffan de Mistura, is in consultation with all concerned as he finalises the date for the next round of the intra-Syrian talks”.
While the US, UK and France have frequently disregarded the UN, it is essential that this plan, which has Syrian approval, is also in line with the voice of the United Nations.
This again reinforces just how isolated the US and radical Sunni militants are at this time. The UN, Russia, Iran, Syria, Turkey and the UN are on one side, while the US and armed radicals are on another.
There is of course a danger that such an agreement could lead to the federalisation of Syria. This however is opposed by a country who supports the agreement, Syria, as well as a signatory of the agreement, Iran.
While some have accused Russia of agnosticism over federalisation, ultimately Russia has always said that it is a Syrian issue for Syria to decide. Connecting the dots leads to the conclusion that Russia will not bank on federalisation against the wishes of Damascus.
The Memorandum changes few manifest realities on the ground in Syria but it shifts the political trajectory of the situation vastly in favour of Syria, Russia and Iran. Turkey has been boxed into a corner and America doesn’t even have a corner to be boxed into.
Russia’s ‘long game’ strategy appears to have paid off.