Following a trilateral meeting in Moscow, on December 20, 2016, Turkey, Russia and Iran released a joint statement – termed the ‘Moscow Declaration’ – noting that all three countries agree to “facilitate and become the guarantors” of any political agreement to end the Syrian Civil War. Another meeting between the three is scheduled for December 27, 2016.
Rather than asking “what should we expect from the next meeting”, a better question might be: “What is each party willing to give up and compromise?”
The facts on the ground and the extent of involvement of each party will be key-factors as they all sit around the negotiating table. Negotiations will inevitably reflect the power balance between the pro-Assad (Moscow and Tehran) and the pro-rebels (Turkey and allies).
AT THE NEGOTIATING TABLE WHO CONTROLS WHAT IN SYRIA?
Importantly these meetings will have taken place after the recapture of Aleppo (Syria’s second city) by the Assad regime. The rebels were defeated, but the rebellion is far from crushed. Many fighters have been evacuated as “civilians” from Aleppo. The regime controls cities of the littoral (Latakia, Tartuss) and now three major cities: Hama, Homs, Aleppo, along with the capital, Damascus, and Suwayda in the south.
But Quneitra, Deraa, and Idlib are still under the rebels’ control, as well as Zabadani and Madaya, near Damascus, although all of them will be the next targets by the regime following Aleppo.
Most of the north of Syria is under Kurdish forces, while ISIL has taken control of some cities in the center of the country like Al-Raqqa, Palmyra, Deir e-Zor, until Abu Kama westward, and their surroundings.
MILITARY REALITIES DICTATE THE NEGOTIATIONS
Asking about the future of Syria is in reality an assessment of the ongoing situation on a number of different battle fields. Are those opposite forces ready for a compromise? If the regime and its allies (Russia and Iran) can guarantee a ceasefire, who is in control of the rebels? Does Turkey have the power to impose a negotiated solution on the rebels to end the civil war?
One guesses that, despite its efforts, Ankara may restrict the movement of the Syrian opposition, but it can hardly impose its view of the solution on all the rebel forces.
On the other hand, the forces fighting for the regime are indubitably more important and better armed and trained than the rebels. But even so, the war is not yet won. There are large portions of the territory that nobody controls; other parts are under mixed control.
WILL SYRIA EVER RETURN TO HOW IT ONCE WAS
In the present situation of complete antagonism, the hopes for the return to the status quo ante (the old situation) for the Syrian state are effectively nil. If by state we mean the “nation-state”: i.e. authority over territory and population, the entity we used to call “Syria” no longer exists.
Is there a political solution for the conflict? There are many plans, but no perfect solution. Every party in the trio (Russia, Iran, and Turkey) seeks an arrangement that serves its own geopolitical interests, not those of the Syrian people.
As the rebels did not express any will to reach a compromise that would involve putting down their weapons, the future of Syria may very well be like its present: A dismantled country, part of which is under Assad, and other parts under armed groups. The war will continue…
Dr. Hichem Karoui, research fellow, analyst and writer.
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