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Keep your friends close and your enemies closer–Russia’s Astana strategy

Sometimes there is no better way to neutralise one’s opponents than to take their vague ideas and implement them according to one’s own standards. This is essentially what Russia and Iran with the full approval of Syria have done in respect of ‘safe-zones’.

Donald Trump had long talked about such zones in Syria and Erdogan had sought to create them for even longer. The danger of Turkey and/or the United States working to create such zones is that they have no legal mandate to do so and moreover, Turkey and the United States have proved themselves both in word and deed to be the enemies of Syria.

Russia and Iran by contrast have been consistent partners and friends of Syria and have played an invaluable role in helping Syria to be increasingly on the winning side of their war against Salifist terrorism.

By co-opting the idea of safe-zones it means that the United States will not be enforcing them. US enforcement of such zones would of course mean the US enforcing them along the lines of America’s devious agenda for Syria, one which at best calls for the Balkanisation of the country. The worst manifestation of American aims could result in illegal regime change in Damascus. The same analogy could be readily applied to Turkey, only magnified even more so in many ways.

Now though, the zones will be administered by Russia, Iran and Turkey. Turkey is clearly the odd country out in this respect but Turkey is outnumbered. Furthermore, because Turkey has been known to do what it will in Syria against the wishes not only of Syria and its allies, but in the case of fighting Kurdish forces, even against  the wishes of the United States, one can think of Turkey’s role in Russian and Iranian administered safe-zones as one where Turkey can be put on a short leash.

Even if the short leash isn’t short enough, it certainly cannot make things worse than they all ready are and it holds the theoretical potential to make things slightly better. This is Erdogan’s chance to exculpate himself from his losing war in Syria with dignity. Will he take this golden opportunity? It all depends on how irrational he wants to be. All bets are off, but even if Erdogan goes predictably rogue, it still does not make things any different than they have been for some time.

For American politicians, criticising Russia and Iran’s role in Syria is something of a national past-time which lasts even longer than baseball season. But following this analogy, Russia is at bat and the inning is going to last for a long time. America can either quietly join Russia’s team or watch them score a political home-run while leaving Donald Trump with no leg to stand on. Trump wanted safety zones, he spoke with Vladimir Putin on the phone about his approval of them and hence, America no longer has any legitimate reason to complain.

Some have suggested that this move by Russia is a prerequisite for US-Russian cooperation in Syria. If this ever happens and I increasingly doubt it ever will, it is still a long way off. America is now more removed from the Syrian peace process, let alone the war process than it has been since Barack Obama’s administration began funding insurgents in Syria during 2011.

The only thing better than making one’s opponents feel down and out is by making them content and out. Stated another way, ‘keep your friends close and your enemies even closer’. This is what Russia has done with the overt enemies of the Syrian Arab Republic.

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