Whether it’s rightwing or leftwing, Western media consistently castigate the Syrian state. Recently, the French daily Libération dedicated its front page to the claim that Bashar Al-Assad offered a painting by David Hockney worth 27 million euros to his wife Asmaa. Yet the source of this claim was the Russian newspaper Gosnovosti, an outlet Western media would usually disregard.
While Western media have long berated Bashar Al-Assad, Kremlin-related think tanks and outlets have also targeted the Syrian regime in recent times. Why is that?
The heavy toll of the war, successive embargoes, U.S. sanctions and the plundering of warlords have wrecked the Syrian economy. On top of that, the Syrian administration is hapless and corrupted. In light of this, Russia has run out of patience.
In exchange for its support, Russia has expected certain things from Syria. Amongst those were an ordering of the army and militia forces, progress with regards to the drafting of a new constitution, attempts to curb corruption and efforts to foster investments. The aim was to end the deadlock in the three fronts of the war, break the international isolation and pave the way for post-war reconstruction.
Several signs have emerged from Russia indicating that the Putin administration is growing weary of Damascus. For instance, Pravda.ru recently published a piece which claimed that al-Assad’s cousin Rami Mahluf controlled 60 percent of the country’s economy. Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov had to deny that Putin was unhappy with Assad for refusing to compromise with Syria’s opposition in negotiating a political settlement.
In the midst of this, another thorny process has been ongoing in Syria. Al-Assad is criticized for feeding his relatives with state resources. Yet in what resembled what Putin did to his oligarchs years ago, the Syrian dictator summoned his cronies and asked them return what they had stolen from the state. Al-Assad has clamped down on prominent companies with tax, contraband and irregularity checks. The assets of colossal holdings have been subjected to provisional injunctions.
Through this operation, Bashar al-Assad has two objectives. Firstly, he wants to show that he’s fighting corruption. Second, he wants to replenish the country’s battered public finances.
According to Al-Akbar – a Beirut-based daily said to be close to Hezbollah – what Al-Assad is seeking is not to seize or close down companies but to force companies to pay up. Once the companies have reached an agreement with the state, injunctions are usually lifted. As an example, after it paid the bills for its tax violations since 2012, the Ahras family, which is close to the Assads, saw its injunctions removed.
If this operation was to bear fruit, Al-Assad could appease Moscow. In any case, it is highly unlikely that Russia would cease to support the Syrian regime. Neither Putin nor Assad have the luxury to abandon each other.
Al-Assad is the party that holds the pillars of the system as a whole. With the war, the Syrian dictator strengthened his position in the military and in the bureaucracy as well as at a grassroots level. None of Assad’s prospective successors can guarantee stability. Everybody knows this.
Russian media have criticized Al-Assad and his Prime Minister Imad Hamis in the past. “When such comments appear in Russian media, we understand that Putin is annoyed at some things,” a source from Damascus told me. “He exerts pressure on us this way.” Yet why would Putin have to communicate with Assad via such indirect channels? Couldn’t he just send a Minister to Damascus?
In the management of such a complex crisis, parties cannot always be in harmony with each other.
Bashar al-Assad is balancing Russia and Iran to leave himself room for maneuver. He is also digesting tricky moves such as a Turkey’s operations in the field through the road opened by the Russians or a constitutional draft that would include cultural autonomy for the Kurds. Iran’s approach differs from that of Russia, which is a source of concern for Damascus. That also explains why it is using Russia to curb Iran’s hegemony.
It is not like decisions were made in Moscow and Tehran before being imposed upon Damascus. The process goes through cooperation, debates and disagreements. Still, Al-Assad swiftly reacts each time Putin expresses his discontent.
The Russian strategy in Syria has entered a new phase, which is the combination of the hard reality on the field and the deceptive perception that there is hope for withdrawal. Moscow wants to couple its military gains with economic advances and the achievement of a political solution. While one could have anticipated how Russia […]
While displaying empathy with regards to Turkey’s sensitivities, Russia is realizing that it will not be able to find a sustained solution in Syria without winning over the Kurds. This is a point on which Turkey opts to be shortsighted.
Erdoğan is now threading the road the Arab regimes did during the 1960s and 1970s. His superior services to the Israeli and U.S. interests provide an immunity to the special agenda “print out” centered on Palestine.
Now, the majority of Arab countries believe that the Palestinian cause has turned into a tool for Turkey and Iran to penetrate into the region. For many of them, Palestine is a burden anyway. More than a couple of them are ready to let go of the cause if there is no pressure from the street.
It is difficult to estimate how the U.S.’s Syria policy will look after the U.S. presidential elections, but, for the moment, oil is a factor that extends the stay of U.S. troops. Despite Trump's back-and-forth positions, the Kurds are the most important base for this framework.
This step involving the Hagia Sophia has totally destroyed the deception that Turkey has preserved its multi-religious, multicultural and multi-identity features as a country. Since we have passed the expiry date of lies, what is next now? Is there another topic of victimization left?
Even though Sisi always said they would not just watch Turkey increase its involvement, it was believed that he would avoid a military adventure. The major fear of Sisi is that in the event that Islamist forces win in Libya, there is a possibility that Muslim Brotherhood, which he toppled in a 2013 coup, may have the chance to take revenge.
While the ENKS and the PYD agree on certain topics, a deep gap remains between the two groups. And the American and French pressure will do little to close that gap. Moreover, Barzani’s ties with Turkey limit his capabilities. Given the KDP and the PKK were fighting each other in the Qandil mountains, how could the two movements unite on the Syrian front?
The restructuring of Idlib entails Turkey’s dispersing of opponent groups and the formation of its own militias. Alongside this, Ankara plans to attack the Syrian army and defend itself from it. Turkey wants to turn its proxies into a parallel army that is affiliated to its national army.
The U.S.-Iran showdown will either expose Iraq, including Kurdistan, to re-design military operations or usher in a return to the unprecedented cooperation that had allowed the country to tackle several issues in the wake of the 2003 invasion. Another option is the Iraqis fully recovering their sovereignty, though this prospect remains distant for now.
Relinquishing its vocation to be a social state, the Turkish government is now providing us with its bank details amid the coronavirus pandemic. What this shows is that the Turkish state does not intend to give a helping hand to citizens during tough times. Despite that, it is not ready to give up on its endless wars in Syria and Libya.
Turkish President Erdoğan rides at full speed as if he has unlimited resources. There is an overflowing domestic mass he can address through the martyrs. However, this course of events requires serious resources and support. It puts Turkey into the position of a “proxy state” in Syria in the eyes of Syria’s enemies, starting with Israel.
HTS was supposed to have been eliminated with the Sochi Agreement. But HTS swept the groups Turkey was supporting and formed its own emirate in Idlib. They have now reunited with the “revolutionary” spirit of pre-2015. The story is this clear. This is the profile of Turkey's ally in the field.
The U.S. support for Turkey amid attacks from the Syrian regime came as something of a surprise. The reason for this is that while Washington is unlikely to intervene further in the Syrian theater, it is likely to use Turkey to carry out its objectives.
Every venture led by Erdoğan has benefited Russian leader Vladimir Putin. Amid this circle of fire, Turkey can hardly take on a potent role to push for peace. For the destructive choices it has made in recent years have taken their toll on constructive diplomacy.
Russia having a say in Libya is a sign of the strengthening of its position in the Mediterranean and an increase in relations in northern Africa, just as it means that they will be able to look at Europe from the south. After a similar trip to Damascus, this is now the equivalent of a jaunt to Tripoli wearing Ottoman boots.
Putting oil at the center of the Syrian crisis may affect the direction and feature of the war. The shooting of oil tankers at Al Bab and Jarabukus on Nov. 26 by unidentified planes was a pre-reminder of the oil war.The oil file is an unfulfilled desire for Turkey but at the same time it is a burning one.
Whether it be the U.S., Russia, Iran or the Syrian regime, all seem to want to re-settle the Syrian Kurds. While American’s policy is open-ended, it is also murky. Damascus is calling on troops within the SDF to join the national army. In other words, it does not recognize the SDF. The Kurds want to assess what Russia is capable of doing.
ISIS finding space for itself in Idlib will make it harder for Turkey to maintain its stance of obstructing operations in the region. It will also cause Turkey to be openly blamed. Then it will come to organizations Turkey is openly protecting. Turkey is quickly adding more pages to its crime folder because of the militia forces it sees as substitutes to Turkish army.
Ultimately, this agreement requires Erdoğan to coordinate himself with the Syrian government, which he calls illegitimate. In this setting, the next step would have him shake hands with Damascus. It is thus the first time Russia has been able to turn its wish into a written commitment.
How far will the US go to end its partnership with the SDF? According to the statement from the White House, the US will neither support Turkey's offensive nor protect the Kurds. Yet will it prevent the heavy weapons it gave the SDF from being used?
At the Turkish opposition's conference on Syria, it was openly stated that the path to peace passes through dialogue with Damascus. However, certain basic dilemmas should be overcome if an alternative way out is to be developed. The opposition should not fall into the trap laid by the government.
The Astana trio, made up of Russia, Turkey and Iran met in Ankara this week. Again, the event consecrated the failure of Turkey's Syrian strategy.