In a lengthy discussion for The Duran I recently wrote that the concerns some have expressed about the ‘draft constitution’ the Russians presented to the Syrian parties at the peace talks in Astana, though well-intentioned, are misplaced.
I said that the ‘draft constitution’ was not intended seriously and was certainly not meant to be a blueprint for Syria’s future. Rather I said that it was a device to break the deadlock by getting the parties at the talks to move beyond the sterile subject of the future of President Assad, and to talk instead about other more important topics concerning the future of Syria.
Here is how I explained it
Needless to say none of [the Syrian parties] – the Kurds, the Ba’athists, the Arab nationalists or the Sunni fundamentalists – would consider this ‘draft constitution’ remotely acceptable, and all of them have rejected it, as the Russians of course knew they would. The point is that by presenting it to them the Russians have got them all talking about something other than the future of President Assad, whilst highlighting areas for future discussion, and leaving open the possibility of a future invitation to Astana to the Kurds, who are currently being prevented from going there by the Syrians and the Turks.
Early indications are that the play was successful. It seems that the Jihadi groups who came to Astana have warmed to Russia, accepting that the Russians are indeed prepared to act as honest brokers and not simply steamroller over them on behalf of President Assad.
The result was that there were no tantrums or walkouts, the peace process is continuing, and the parties are all talking, if not yet to each other. The ‘draft constitution’ has given them topics they can all talk about other than the status of President Assad, and – since they all dislike it – even something they can all agree about.
If this all sounds clever, the answer is that of course it is. However one should not overstate this. Anyone who has been involved in mediation exercises knows that presenting a document like the ‘draft constitution’ is actually a standard diplomatic and mediation ploy to break the deadlock, get the parties to accept the bona fides of the mediator, and get the parties talking to the mediator if not yet to each other.
Confirmation that this is indeed the purpose of the ‘draft constitution’ and that it has no other purpose has been provided by the most authoritative source possible, which is Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov himself. Here is how TASS describes him explaining the purpose of the ‘draft constitution’ in a telephone conversation Friday 3rd February 2017 with the French Foreign Minister
The Russian top diplomat provided comments on the Russia-proposed Syrian draft constitution, saying “it is an invitation for a conversation,” an attempt to find common ground in approaches of the Syrian government and the opposition with an aim of creating conditions for the Syrians to decide about the future of their country in compliance with United Nations Security Council Resolution 2254
(bold italics added)
In other words the ‘draft constitution’ is not a blueprint for Syria’s future, or a discussion document, or even a position paper. It is – just as I said – a standard mediator’s ploy to get all the Syrian parties “talking about something other than the future of President Assad, whilst highlighting areas for future discussion”.
My clear impression is that the Russians are baffled and somewhat embarrassed by the attention the ‘draft constitution’ has attracted. Now that it has served its purpose of breaking the deadlock I doubt we will hear much more of it when the Astana talks resume, which they are due to do on Monday.