Summit of the "troika" in Ankara: "intoxication with Syrian pie"
Summit of the "troika" in Ankara: "intoxication with Syrian pie"
The first quarter of 2018 stood out as one of the fiercest periods of the endless civil war in Syria. The Turkish military operation in the Kurdish enclave of Afrin, the humanitarian catastrophe in East Gouta, the incidents involving the use of chemical weapons by the Syrian government and the endless bombing of the de-escalation zones by the Russian Air Force became the axial events of the terrifying Syrian reality.
In fact, instead of the promised reconciliation after the "victory over ISIS", announced by Putin last fall, the country entered a phase of redistribution of spheres of influence between "guarantors of peace".
In this case, the appetites of each hegemon in the part of the section of the Syrian pie grow. In anticipation of the second Russia-Turkey-Iran summit in Syria that began on April 4, 2018 in Ankara under the motto «demonstrating respect and mutual interest», these qualities of normal relations will be very lacking for the conflicting «allies». After all, it is important for them to realize only their narrow interests in the course of negotiations, while avoiding large financial investments in the arrangement of controlled territories.
The Syrian hegemony field of the Kremlin
The meeting of the «troika» in Syria is going on, as diplomatically expressed in the Russian Foreign Ministry, in conditions of «stalling the peace process» and almost ignoring of the decisions of the failed Congress of National Dialogue by all sides, which took place in Sochi in January 2018.
It is important to point out that the foreign ministers of the three countries have already held preliminary consultations on March 16 in Astana, focusing on the release of prisoners of war, the humanitarian and military situation in East Gouta and Idlib, and the resuscitation of Sochi's reconciliation work. As we can see, the situation in Afrin, the Kurdish problem, the mechanics of inclusive negotiations with the Syrian opposition, the parameters of the new compromising government in Damascus was taken out of brackets.
The Astana meeting showed again the problematic fields, which remained without solutions. For example, the Turks continued to zealously defend their positions, which the Kremlin considers it as signs of their solidarity with the West. In particular, Erdogan also accuses Assad of all mortal sins, and wants to eliminate it, because even amid of the anti-Kurdish "Olive Branch", Turkey boldly accused the Syrian government of violating human rights and using chemical weapons in East Gouta.
Of course, Russian diplomats also failed to get clear assurances from Turks that they would oppose Washington's possible plans to strike against Damascus in retaliation for a real bloody bacchanalia in the Gouta de-escalation zone. In general, the "reliability" of the Turkish side, which has its own game on the Syrian board, remains an open topic for Moscow.
In such circumstances, the maximum goal of the talks was to create the ground for developing a common position between the parties, which is especially important in the light of Russia's increasingly growing international isolation. And it seems that the Russians have somehow bought Erdogan. In addition, on the eve of the summit, the Turkish court issued an arrest warrant for eight members of the Fethullah organization, including Fethullah Gülen himself, on charges of involvement in the murder of Russian Ambassador to Turkey Andrei Karlov ...
Do not forget that the first foreign visit of "reelected" for another term, but in fact approved by referendum, President Putin it is to Turkey.
If previously he and Medvedev firstly visited the capitals of the CIS countries after election/ re-election, for example, Minsk, Kiev or Astana, and then went to London, Paris or Berlin, but now Putin has to go only there. And the last successful PR-platform and "hegemony zone" of the Kremlin seems to be only the part of the Syrian territory controlled by Assad, which is traded with the Turks.
Putin wants to show his power and greatness is in the Syrian issue to the two vis-a-vis - Turkish and Iranian, whose reputation in the civilized world looks rather ambiguous, but the elections in these despotic countries of the Middle East are much more democratic and competitive. For example, Erdogan won with 51% of the vote in 2014, and Iranian President Hasan Rukhani won 57% of the vote last year.
It is known that it was very difficult to organize Putin's visit to Ankara. Already now, the media that close to the Kremlin indicate: "Regardless of the importance of the current conference in Turkey as part of the end of the seven-year war in Syria, the current summit of the three powerful states, albeit with different understanding of regional dynamics, but willingly develop sustainable solutions for resolving regional crises without influence of the coalition oriented to the West, is a turning point in the creation of a new multilateral regional order".
Russian propaganda clearly realizes that the Kremlin does not have the "new world order" and is already limited to the regional level. But it is also very narrow, because Arab heavyweights - Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Egypt, the United Arab Emirates, and Israel, in fact, are outside the framework of this "order" with all the ensuing consequences.
But the Russians still hope that the current high-level talks will allow for institutionalizing a multilateral regional order. It seems to them that the time has come for other players involved in the Syrian crisis to recognize the existing realities and actively promote collective multilateral efforts, which are the only way to achieve peace in Syria.
But these appeals look like only "wishlists", not provided with real resources, because the "troika" is not united inside, but is only welded by the understanding of the impossibility to solve the Syrian crisis alone, especially when new important stories appear.
For example, French President Emmanuel Macron recently met with a delegation of Kurds from the Forces of Democratic Sirya, and the French media reported on the possible strengthening of a group of French Special Forces in a Kurdish-controlled area centered in Manbij. Now, the American military are also present there, and Turkey has repeatedly stated its intention to enter its troops into the area, and even conducted appropriate negotiations with the US, which stalled after the resignation of Secretary of State Rex Tillerson. Here's one, not to say that the "black swan" from Paris, but he breaks slender projects on regional hegemony.
Against this background, experts in Moscow stress that "despite the existing disagreements, it is important to follow the logic that developed in the framework of the Astana process, continued in Sochi, and is continuing in Ankara now ". They have even prepared the "summaries" of the outcome of the talks: "... these meetings, regardless of their outcome, will be an important success of Russian diplomacy, which puts at the same table of negotiations such irreconcilable opponents as Turkey and Iran".
As we can see again, that is the image meeting for Putin that he could not feel alone, even amid the refusal of President Sudan Omar al-Bashir from deepen cooperation with Russia, which was indicated by the expulsion of Russian gold diggers from the Siberian for Mining from the country in January 2018, which were quickly replaced by quick Belarusians.
The summit without an agenda and a set of threefold differences
The fact that the second Syrian Russia-Turkey-Iran summit is convened for propaganda purposes indicates the unfilledness of its agenda. Speaking about the topic of the summit, Russian presidential aide Yuri Ushakov noted that the presidents will discuss the implementation of the trilateral summit agreements that took place in 2017 in Sochi, as well as the decisions of the Congress of the Syrian national dialogue, which was held also there. And that's all, nothing new.
But only from one given formulation about the "implementation of agreements" it becomes uncomfortable if we recall the scale of the bloody sweeps of the opposition in the country after the first meeting in Sochi, and the "Afrin war" of the Turks against the Kurds, which claimed about 2.5 thousand lives on both sides.
In addition, Putin, Erdogan and Ruhani will discuss additional measures to strengthen the ceasefire in Syria. This looks very surreal, considering the fact that only in March this year, according to the Syrian Network of Human Rights (SNHR), 1241 people died in the country, 1006 of them from the strikes of the Russian-Syrian coalition. At the same time, civilians account for 92% of the total number of deaths, including 203 children and 186 women. Needless to say, such a failed implementation of the UN Security Council Resolution 2401 aimed at a ceasefire throughout Syria and improving the humanitarian situation, the civilized world has not seen for a long time, which means that the parties need to think over the tactics of bleaching in this sensitive matter at the summit.
Ushakov said that "additional steps will be approved there that could be taken in the interests of strengthening the ceasefire regime [in Syria], ensuring the functioning of the so-called de-escalation zones". Probably, the insurgents and civilians in Idlib should be very much stressed, and begin to prepare for an intensification of the "peacekeeping" bombing of the Russian Aerospace Forces.
Ushakov also said that "the three countries are united in understanding that there is no alternative to the settlement of the Syrian conflict by political methods, and the final word in this process should belong to the Syrians, and the role of the members of the international community is to help achieve consensus". As mentioned above, the United States and France have their views on the current processes in Syria, and they are not just being persuaded to accept alien developments.
In particular, the constitutional reform in Syria will again be pushed through. Troika intends to further assist the formation of the Constitutional Committee in the republic, in which all segments of the Syrian society should be represented. But considering that the opposition is filtering, and a lot of forces are simply excluded from the negotiation process, especially the most important players - the Kurds and the Sunni opposition, this Committee is the next Golem, without the prospects of becoming a truly functioning body of the entire Syrian nation.
It is characteristic that, during the discussing all the siryian topics in the framework of the triple meeting, the Syrian affairs will be settled in parallel on Putin's two-sided talks with Erdogan and separately with Rukhani. On the one hand, Moscow can manipulate these players, and on the other - this is a clear sign of great and irreconcilable differences between the parties. Although the rhetoric of the Russians that the conflict in Syria has already been resolved, there are no "stunning" proofs of this yet, even US President Donald Trump made a statement about his propensity to transfer the solution of the Syrian question to the "other forces".
First, the problem of the future bloody regime of President Assad, who committed an unprecedented cruelty experiment on his people, is very acute. He can not go unpunished by definition. There is no doubt that the weaker the opposition to the Assad regime becomes, the less controlled he becomes from Moscow and Tehran.
So, they will not only solve the puzzle about the compromising government in Damascus with the Turks, but also think how to curb the followers of Asad who believe that they are winners in the civil war. After all, as is known, "fraternal aid" is quickly forgotten when a direct threat to the life of the regime disappears, especially among those who "had already seen all the circles of hell" in their lives. This issue remains very raw, and leads to tension between the parties.
Compromise operates in conditions that Asad allows to the Russians to have full access to military bases and facilities in those parts of the country that they are interested in, and the Iranians in turn must fully control the corridor to the Syrian-Lebanese-Israeli border in order to press on the government of Netanyahu.
Ankara is temporarily satisfied with the control over the buffer zones on the border to the west of the Euphrates, as well as the Idlib region, where the rebels from Aleppo and East Gouta fled. In these zones, conditions should be created for the normal life of the Sunnis and the return of Syrian refugees from Turkey.
The balance will be strongly changed if the United States wil withdraw from its position regarding control over the northeast of the country, where an autonomous enclave of Kurds and Syrian moderate oppositionists was created. If Washington leaves Rozhava, then a war may begin between the "winners" who will seek to grab a fat piece for themselves, and obviously, the antagonism between Ankara and Damascus, as well as their Iranian and Russian patrons, will most likely be bare.
These resource-rich territories are just a dream for all these players. Recall at least the story of the death of Wagner's PMCs who tried to grab oil objects in the Deir-ez-Zor area in the interstices of their once-near-Kremlin patrons, but suffered a complete fiasco. Do not forget that Ankara sleeps and sees how to crush under Manbidj, held by the Kurds, and thus unify the banks of the Euphrates with own control.
They do not contribute to the resolution of the conflict and the fact that its root cause is the question of the situation of the Sunnis in Syria remains unresolved, and it was precisely because of this problem that the civil war began. The millions of these people living in Idlib and outside Syria - in Jordan, Turkey and Lebanon, have not received yet any intelligible guarantees of representation in the Syrian authorities. So, the moods of revanchism will grow stronger in their community.
If you look at the near future of Syria, it will be waiting for two new nodes of conflict. On the one hand, Russian Aerospace Forces and Asad Army will bomb Idlib, which will anger greatly Ankara. On the other hand, the Turks may face a large-scale war with the Kurds, who in turn are conducting shadowy negotiations with Damascus about the possible entry into Syria under some convenient conditions for them.
In the coming months, we can relay on two things: the fact that Russia and the regime will bombard Idlib and its thousands of civilians, and that the Sunni insurgents who take refuge in it will react as much as possible. Both sides will continue to do what they did before.
Secondly, the Kurds of Syria, thanks to the defeat of ISIS in Syria, now control the excessive part of the northeast. All that east of the Euphrates River was not exclusively Kurdish before ISIS, and the Syrian democratic forces are an unshakable power there.
If the US withdraws, as President Donald Trump said, the Syrian Kurds will either have to work out an agreement on coexistence with the Syrian regime, or go it alone, potentially against the Turkish military forces.
As journalists from the American CNN channel noted very aptly that "the leaders of Russia, Iran and Turkey will be smiling in public, their faces are actually mired in terrible grimaces from walking around broken Syrian glass".
The burden of reconstruction of Syria
Perhaps the most interesting topic at the talks between Russians, Turks and Iranians will be post-conflict reconstruction of the Syrian territory, which was destroyed almost to the ground after 7 years of the war.
It is well known that the "liberated" in the fall of 2016 Aleppo was destroyed by almost 80%, and it was often compared with Grozny or Dresden. Not the best, and, if not the worst, the picture is observed in the settlements in other Syrian territories. The war has catastrophic consequences for Syria in all dimensions. Demographically, over the years of the conflict, 500,000 people died, which is 2.4% of the total population in 2011. The number of wounded Syrians is estimated at 2 million; the total loss of people is 11.5% of the population. If these figures were scaled, for example, to the US, then it would be about 37 million people! 12 million Syrians left their homes and became internally displaced or refugees and now 60% of the population live in extreme poverty. 6 million Syrians are unemployed, and unemployment among youth reaches 78%.
No less terrible figures describe the current economic state of the country: GDP for the years of war decreased by 4 times: from $ 60 billion in 2010 to $ 15 billion in 2016. Oil production fell by 93%, while other sectors of the economy were stuck at 52%. In agricultural and industrial complex the situation is even worse: food production fell by 55%. The country's trade is also in decline: exports fell by 92%, and imports by 73%.
Against this background, the figures necessary to restore Syria to the level of 2011 are fantastic. According to Rasmus Jacobsen, an expert with the Atlas Assistance Risk Management Company of Beirut, $ 200-300 billion is needed to rebuild the country. And these are still quite conservative estimates, because the figure was also $ 1 trillion, despite the fact that Russia's GDP in 2016 was only $ 1.28 trillion.
Amid of these figures, the statements of US President Donald Trump about the withdrawal from Syria and the transfer of this problem to the balance of other players become absolutely clear. The US President said that the US military "defeated the Islamic State in full". Importantly, Trump also froze Syria's reconstruction program, but this is a rather small amount of $ 200 million, allocated for the reconstruction of Eastern Syria.
Trump is good at counting money, and he knows clearly that his country spent only $ 18.4 billion on reconstruction of Iraq through the Iraqi Fund for Assistance and Reconstruction. The duplication of such costs from the pockets of the Amerkian taxpayers to restore Syria, Washington does not intend to repeat.
It turns out that the whole burden of post-war reconstruction of the Syrian infrastructure will lie on Russia, Turkey and Iran now. Construction companies from these countries literally slept and saw how they will disburse Western billions on Syrian objects. But, as you can see, something went wrong. Now it is clear that at least somehow the funds for the restoration of Syria could be replenished by Europeans or China. But if the EU countries can be frightened by new flows of refugees, then Beijing should get really promise something serious. For example, the same contracts for restoration work. But wherever the Chinese come, other players are left with very little space. And somehow it turns out that China, which does not fight in Syria, will skim the cream in this country.
However, most likely, there are no other paths for shabby regional hegemons. In Turkey, the economy is growing with systemic difficulties. For example, inflation during 2017-2018 has double-digit figures, and in March 2018 it reached 10.2%. This affects the growth of prices and the decline in the rate of the Turkish lira.
Before the elections in 2019, President Erdogan will seek to accumulate financial resources inside the country, which means that no significant infusions into Syria are expected.
Regarding Iran, the country survived a wave of mass popular protests in December 2017-January 2018, one of the reasons for which were the large costs of Tehran to strengthen its positions in Syria. Ordinary Iranians do not understand what they get from the strengthening of their country's role in the Middle East, particularly in Yemen, Lebanon or Syria, because their lives do not get better from this, but rather, internal problems are rapidly accumulating.
Russia, drawn into the Syrian and Ukrainian wars, is also incapable of investing anything in Syria, unless some millions will appear if it will be removed from the budgets of the so-called "DNR" and "LNR", or South Ossetia and Abkhazia, and other separatist formations of the "Russian world" zone, giving it to the Assad regime.
There are simply no other resources, because the Russian economy still lies at the bottom. In 2015, the decline was 2.8%, in 2016 - 0.2%, and then went the period of zero growth, which dubbed "a new normality" for the electorate. Russian institutions, such as the Institute for Economic Forecasting of the Russian Academy of Sciences and the Institute for the Economy of Growth named after Stolypin, sound the alarm: the results of the last five years turned out to be the worst for Russia in comparison with the rest of the commodity economies, with the exception of Venezuela.
Over the past 9 years, the growth of Russian GDP was almost six times lower than that of other countries! The conclusion is obvious; the Kremlin will not able to provide the Syrian reconstruction, as well as Ankara and Tehran.
Proceeding from this, one can come to the final conclusion: since none of the guarantors of peace in Syria "simply has no money", then Syria will again have to fight. Apparently, the parameters of the new stage of the war will be the main, but the most closed topic of the meeting of the Troika in Ankara. Indeed, there has long been no such division of the pie, which would be so toxic to its participants, and signs of future poisoning are only visible on the horizon.