22.01.2017 Author: Yuriy Zinin

What Should One Expect from the Syrian Peace Talks in Astana?

4534324234The international meeting on the Syrian settlement in Astana has been attracting the attention of numerous experts across the Middle East.

Most experts agree that the meeting will be a major international and regional step towards the shift of balance of forces on the ground, transforming a bitter military face-off into a political process. The meeting will clarify the positions and the influence enjoyed by the conflicting parties before a new round of negotiations in Geneva starts.

According to the newspaper “Al-Quds Al-Arabi” that is being published in London, the current balance of forces suggests that for the first time since the beginning of the crisis Turkey gravitates towards Russia’s position on the Syrian settlement, that dictates the need to put all the parties of conflict at the negotiating table.

This view is shared by a prominent Arab media figure and political analyst Abdel Bari Atwan. He stresses the fact that the Russian-Turkish alliance, which became the “dominant driving force” of the Syrian settlement. While Moscow supports the Syrian government, Turkey is in position to act on behalf of the armed opposition groups that has the capacity of applying pressure on them. In these circumstances, there is a pushing of the political opposition. We’re speaking about the so-called Supreme Negotiations Committee (with headquarters in Riyadh) and the National Coalition of Opposition and the Revolutionary Forces (with headquarters in Istanbul). According to the above mentioned analyst, the Supreme Committee is losing its “monopoly” to represent opposition groups, which it enjoyed at the previous stages of the negotiations in Geneva, since armed groups are turning their backs, both completely or partially, on the their foreign sponsors, including the Persian Gulf monarchies.

This Arab analyst is convinced that we can be talking about a veritable breakthrough. It is possible, he notes, that the conference in Astana will be the turning point in the Syrian conflict where the previous regional balance of powers will change.

Other Arab authors still warn the negotiators that there is a significant number of militant groups who have not accepted the ceasefire and who still control a pretty large chunk of the Syrian territory.

The majority of the representatives of the so-called Syrian political opposition are warily watching the preparations for the Astana meeting. They carry on their claims that Damascus is getting “increasingly dependent” on its partners, while a number of media sources are making all sorts of allegations about “new contradictions between Damascus and its allies,” etc.

According to the Jordanian journalist Muhammad Khatyn, Astana has become a real alternative to Geneva, opening the road for the creation of a Syrian federal state.

A number of regional media sources perceives the importance of the meeting in Astana in a broader context that goes far beyond the scope of the Syrian crisis. Thus, according to the Lebanese TV channel “Al-Mayadin,” the trilateral statement of the Iran-Russia-Turkey in Moscow opens the field for broader political talks between them to expand the vital economic and other ties enjoyed by these states.

The TV station is convinced that Russia and Iran are happy to get Turkey involved in the implementation of the major Eurasian project, as an alternative to the European Union. The fact that former Soviet republics will get involved in this project will make it easier for Ankara to make a choice, since it has a common linguistic, ethnic and historical background with a number of those. On the other hand, those states have fully developed ties with Iran, while the latter is also interested in deepening them in the light of the new US administration planning to review the bilateral nuclear deal. However, the ongoing crisis in Syria, fueled from outside, prevents the three states from reaching a higher level of economic cooperation.

This is an important factor to consider when assessing the upcoming meeting in Astana and its results, concludes the Al-Mayadin television channel. It’s pretty symbolic that the name Astana is of Turko-Iranian origin.

Yury Zinin, Leading Research Fellow at the Moscow State Institute of International Relations (MGIMO), exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook.”