What the Astana process gave to Syria

What the Astana process gave to Syria

The Syrian Foreign Ministry urged the UN Security Council to take measures to end the ‘barbarous crimes’ and violations of the international law by the forces of the international coalition led by the United States on the territory of the republic. Damascus called for the disbandment of the coalition and immediate cessation of its aggressive actions, especially since they are not directed against ISIS (the terrorist organization banned in the Russian Federation). The foreign policy department of Syria calls on the coalition countries to withdraw from it.

Simultaneously, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Oleg Syromolotov, who oversees the anti-terrorist cooperation, told RIA Novosti that the Russian side had rigidly rejected and would continue to reject Washington's attempts to hamper the rapid and final liquidation of the terrorist stronghold in Syria. He described as absurd the situation, when the external force present on the Syrian territory illegally, without the consent of the SAR government, begins to determine the geographical borders for the actions of the Syrian army carrying out an operation of liberation of its own country from terrorists. Experts consider the Astana format to be the most effective for resolving the conflict in Syria.

As Turkish Daily Sabah writes in the article On the Syria peace settlement in Astana, the most tangible and desired result of the Astana process is the agreement on de-escalation zones in Syria, which have the potential to drive the resolution of the Syrian civil war. No doubt, de-escalation of the war in Syria is a tough and painful process requiring wisdom, compromise and patience. It has been launched, and this alone is a big success. The launch was done by an alliance between Turkey, Russia and Iran, a brave triumvirate of next-to-unusual partners that brought to life the Astana process for a peace settlement in Syria and assumed the mission of its guarantors. In less than a year, the Astana process has become a pillar for a peace settlement in Syria.

Today, the Astana process results are apparent, and its best accomplishment is the four de-escalation zones in Syria established within its framework. A Kremlin press release from Sept. 25 says: "The Syrian de-escalation zones give an opening for putting an end to the civil war in the country and for a political settlement of the crisis based on respect for Syrian sovereignty and territorial integrity."

The Astana talks sixth round was held on Aug. 14-15 with the participation of the three guarantor states, representatives of Bashar Assad's regime and certain warring opposition groups, as well as Staffan de Mistura, the U.N. special envoy for Syria, and observers from Jordan, the U.S. and for the first time, Qatar. The meeting produced the expected and much desired result of a de-escalation zone in Idlib Province, the last and most difficult of the four. The agreement reached on Idlib completes what was started on May 4 in Astana by signing the Memorandum on De-escalation Zones in Syria. Turkey, Russia, Iran, the regime and certain factions of the armed opposition agreed to three de-escalation zones in Deraa and Quneitra in the south of the country, in the opposition enclave of Eastern Ghouta near Damascus and in the Homs province in the center that started functioning immediately, while it took the fourth zone in Idlib a while to take shape. In a joint statement released concerning the Aug. 14-15 meeting results, the parties made public their agreement to allocate forces to patrol the zone covering opposition-held Idlib province and parts of the neighboring Latakia, Hama and Aleppo regions. According to Russian officials, Russia, Iran and Turkey could each send 500 monitors to the Idlib province. A separate statement from the Turkish Foreign Ministry also announced: "Monitors from the three states will be deployed at checkpoints to be established in the de-escalation zones to draw their borders. Their principal task will be to prevent the outbreaks of potential hostilities between regime and opposition forces and monitoring cease-fire violations. The monitors' activities will be coordinated by the Joint Coordination Center to be established by the three guarantor states."

The fourth de-escalation zone

The final agreement reached on the Idlib zone in Astana may "strike a turning point" for reconciliation in Syria by providing an opening to a political settlement, Russian representative at the Astana talks Alexander Lavrentiev has said. This is a remarkable development, although it will not end the war in Syria once and for all; yet, hostilities in Idlib again look to have sharply intensified after the talks ended. In disregard of the agreements signed in Astana on Sept. 19, certain terrorist groups attacked regime forces and Russian special forces positions to the north of Hama, making a nearly 20-kilometer advance into the de-escalation zone and a temporary blockade of Russian military police. The attack was repelled, and the regime army restored positions, while the Russian military police were rescued without casualties. This unfortunate incident has made it apparent once again how delicate and fragile the ceasefire is and how much effort it requires from the guarantor parties. The situation has prompted President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan to admit, "The task is not easy. We will discuss additional steps needed to be taken to eradicate terrorists once and for all to restore peace with [Russian President Vladimir] Putin," adding that "under the agreement, Russians are maintaining security outside Idlib, and Turkey will maintain security inside the Idlib region."

Assisting in building political stability in Syria attracts increasing global attention, although approaches differ. While ready to support reconciliation of Syria, the U.S. stands for the removal of Assad as a basic prerequisite for a settlement to the war in Syrian. According to U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Nikki Haley, the U.S. will not stop until it restores stability in Syria with no place for Assad. Turkey's intense exposure to the fighting in Syria has led to interactions with various warring groups and their field commanders to eventually allow them to sit at the negotiating table in Astana. "During the negotiation process regarding the Idlib de-escalation zone, Turkey, as the guarantor of the opposition, played a decisive role in the implementation of the Memorandum [on de-escalation zones] by taking into consideration the approaches and assessments of the opposition groups on the ground," a Turkish Foreign Ministry statement issued on the results of the Aug. 14-15 talks in Astana says. As a guarantor of the Astana process, Turkey is bound to play a major role in the post-war reconciliation of the country to restore peace and stability and ensure a better life for all Syrians.

Russia is a longtime ally of the Assad regime. It stepped into the multi-front conflict in Syria in September 2015 on a request from the Assad regime and in line with its obligations stemming from the Russian-Syrian Friendship and Co-operation Agreement from the 1970s. Russia has since provided air support for the regime while including its special forces in the regime's ground operations. Russian engagement has shifted the balance of power in favor of regime forces and has virtually saved the regime from ultimate collapse. Its combat operations in Syria proceed in close contact with Turkey, and the countries' military interactions continue to intensify since their leaders amicably resolved the jet-downing crisis from November 2015. Unlike Turkey, Russia continuously supports Assad staying in power. It also believes in the legitimate right of the people of Syria to choose the national government without external help.

 The Astana process has continued to advance slowly but surely. As of now, its most tangible and desired result is the agreement on stability zones in Syria bearing a potential to create further ground for proceeding to the next stage of the resolution of the war in Syria – a political one.