During this past summer, whilst tensions rose in Libya and the East Mediterranean, Syria experienced low-intensity clashes and other developments. Last week, the committee tasked with drafting a new Syrian constitution met in Geneva. A third meeting was convened between August 25-29 with UN mediation and the guarantee of the Astana partners. While this third meeting was far from getting to the stage of devising a new constitution, it was rather fruitful in comparison to the two previous ones.
Later, on August 31, lightning struck in Moscow. Russia shared a roadmap for the future of Syria with the Syrian Democratic Council (SDC) - the civilian wing of the Autonomous Administration led by the Kurds and the opposition People’s Will Party. All parties emphasized that Syria was “integral with its territory and peoples,” noting that foreign interventions were deepening the crisis and that the only way to move forward was through a political solution rather than a military one.
Its memorandum rests on several conditions:
- The Syrian crisis should be solved according to the UN Security Council decision number 2254.
- Syria’s territorial integrity and sovereignty should be safeguarded.
- A centralized model that would confer foreign affairs, defense, economic policy to the capital and other powers to local authorities should be adopted.
- Foreign interventions and occupation should end and all foreign powers should withdraw from Syria.
- The Kurdish issue should be addressed through a democratic and just solution embedded in the principle of equal citizenship in accordance with international law and fundamental human rights.
- Lessons should be drawn from the experiences - both positive and negative – of the Autonomous Administration of North and East Syria and this model should be developed at a national level to strengthen Syria’s territorial integrity as well as its sovereignty and public administration.
- The Syrian Democratic Forces should be included in the Syrian Army a well as in the constitutional committee in Geneva.
The conditions, which run counter to Turkey’s priorities, have long been voiced by the autonomous administration that governs northeast Syria. A Syrian party that hails from beyond the Euphrates has accepted these conditions. The People’s Will Party is not a large party that affects current politics in Syria. Its role in the opposition bloc is limited and it has been castigated for being the party of “Damascus and Moscow.” As a result, many observers might underestimate the significance of the agreement.
Yet for the Kurds and the other stakeholders in the autonomous administration, this mutual understanding is significant on a number of levels.
The People’s Will Party adheres to a Marxist-Leninist line. Its founder is Qadri Jamil who once said “I will not be the proxy force of any state.” Thus, it is a movement with which the Kurds will easily be able to collaborate with. After the crisis erupted in Syria, Qadri Jamil was one of the ministers in the consensus government that was formed in 2012 within the framework of the “national consensus.”
Qadri Jamil was later dismissed on the grounds that he had established contact with foreign actors without informing the President. After that, Jamil’s ties with Moscow were further bolstered. The party now serves in the Syrian parliament as the “legitimate” and “legal” opposition. From the perspective of the Kurds, striking a deal with this party allows them to gain a partner in both Damascus and Geneva.
Though to a limited extent, the notion that the Geneva-led project not only addresses the Kurds or certain regions in the country but Syria as a whole is somewhat corroborated. If this platform can be extended, fears of a scenario that would see the country divided may be alleviated.
The People's Will Party is represented in the Geneva constitutional committee with two people as the “Moscow Block”. One of them is a Christian jurist Sami Beytencani, the other is Druze economist Muhammed Dilegan from As-Suwayda. The representatives of the autonomous administration cannot go to Geneva because of Turkey’s veto, but they do have a partner at the table. That enables them to indirectly affect the process.
Beyond this, the memorandum was signed in Moscow. This situation validates that Russia is safeguarding the initiative. Thus, the Turkish government is dealing with Moscow!
What is more, the agreement was signed on the day before Moscow established contact with a delegation from Turkey’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs. The Turkish delegation was sent to Moscow claiming that “its grievances would be conveyed during the meetings.” But it is possible that the issue will be put forward as a Russian perspective. Russia has repeatedly shown that it is not a state that carries out its foreign policy in a hazardous manner.
These conflicts are not coincidental or fortuitous. Beyond being a host, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, posed in a photograph alongside the representatives of the autonomous administration just before the arrival of the Turkish delegation.
This move is an attempt at wooing the Kurds. Its message to Ankara is the following: the solution to the conflict must include all parties.
According to information provided by the deputy president of the SDC executive committee Hikmet Habib, the Russians have confirmed that without the participation of the autonomous administration and the SDC, a political solution would not achieved. Promises of support were put forward to ensure their participation in the political process. It was stated that the issue would be brought before the UN Special Envoy for Syria Geir Pederson and other platforms.
Russia had hitherto kept the Kurds out of the initiative in order to take Turkey’s sensitivities into account. It even toned down its suggestion of “cultural autonomy” which it had put forward during the Astana-Sochi meetings. But Moscow has set out the role of the autonomous administration as a priority again.
With the efforts they made after the October 22, 2019 memorandum that halted Turkey’s Operation Peace Spring, the Russians deployed to the east of the Euphrates, whilst also establishing the conditions that pushed the Kurds towards Damascus.
Yet the newly opened channel of dialogue suffered some hurdles.
On the one hand, Moscow allowed for the extension of US military presence to an open-ended date with a mission to guard the oil. Besides, the Kurds did not relinquish the US guarantee when there was no solution-oriented negotiation process. On the other hand, Damascus refrained from taking risks without having explored alternative, dialogue-free options. Moreover, Russian was unable to overcome the difficulties brought by Turkey’s military presence on four fronts. Negotiations would have required persistence, and there wasn't much.
The U.S. is now absorbed in its election process. U.S. President Donald Trump has no understanding of world geography and is wholly indifferent towards the fate of Iraq and Syria. Though the State Department Special Representative is in charge of the situation, US political leadership is half-blind.
In this void, Russia is sowing the seeds of instability east of the Euphrates with moves that leave U.S. forces in the dust – subtly telling them it is time to go. The partial U.S. withdrawal on the Iraqi front opens the door to new possibilities on the Syrian front. Trump wants to give the impression that he has kept his promise of withdrawing troops he had made to his electorate. Russia, meanwhile, is opening up room for maneuver with regards to the Kurdish issue while Turkey is mired in the waters of the East Mediterranean.
Of course, one cannot expect a serious break from these realities. The Syrian crisis involves too many dynamics and conflicts. Nowadays, all parties are aware of the fact that they need to run a marathon.
Those parties do not expect a major outcome and swift change in positions in Syria in the aftermath of the U.S. elections. Turkey is also adamant in its position, which gives an impression of deadlock in Syria. The conditions that were put forward through the Astana process are still valid on all sides. The ultimate common denominator in this process has to do with the US’s presence. In fact, this conflict repeated itself in Geneva as Iran, Russia and Turkey all stated their “opposition to the illegal seizure and transfer of oil revenues that should belong to the Syrian Arab Republic and condemn the illegal oil deal between a U.S.-licensed company and an illegitimate entity that pursues a separatist agenda.”
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.