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May 18, 2021

Syria: When will Assad end?

In the last two weeks the regime vs. opposition conflict in Syria took on new dimensions that foreshadow the fact that it has entered its final phase. On one hand, Syrian anti-aircraft artillery shot down a Turkish fighter plane at the end of May, an action that suddenly heated bilateral and regional relations. Turkey notified NATO, invoking Article 4 of the Washington Treaty, then massed troops on its border with Syria, the Turkish press recently stating that Damascus is provokingly stirring the Kurdish issue. It can be said that a possible war between the two states is wanted in Damascus, but not in Ankara. The summit of the “action group” for Syria took place in Geneva at the end of last week, seeking to identify a solution to the Syrian issue that has been a hotspot on the international agenda for the past 15 months, approximately 15,000 people dying as a consequence of the authorities’ mass repression actions. This “group” includes foreign affairs ministers from nine states (the five veto-wielding members of the UNSC plus Turkey, Iraq, Kuwait, Qatar), the summit being also attended by the general secretaries of the UN and the Arab League and by the EU “Foreign Minister.” The decisions adopted by this group on June 30 tend to solve the Syrian file through a recalibration of the Kofi Annan plan, featuring a transition period in which the political opposition – a mosaic of factions but with an important radical Islamic component according to some sources – to the current regime will be an actor in its own right, one capable of managing a political transition. It’s true that the fate of the head of this regime is not mentioned – it is suspected he is given the privilege of a comfortable exile – a fact that drew protests from the Syrian opposition. The creation of a national union government that would include the members of the current regime is foreseen, in order to manage the political transition. The Syrian regime expressed its agreement with this plan, but this kind of attitude is usual in recent months: expressing principled agreement with the plans drafted at international level then sabotaging them and continuing repressive actions (see the Arab League plans and the first Assad plan). It is expected this plan will fail too and the repressive actions of the Assad regime will continue. The third event, in chronological order, was the Cairo summit of Syrian opposition representatives on July 1. The summit revealed the existence of serious cleavages within the opposition, the latter far from being a united bloc that seeks to topple the Assad regime and to install one equal for all, Sunnis, Alawites, Kurds, Christians and Druze alike. Moreover, the opposition opposed the demands of the Kurd representatives, which shows that Damascus’s “game” on the Kurdish issue in relation to Turkey is a boomerang.Finally, the most recent event. The summit of the “Friends of Syria” Group (one which the representatives of Russia and China did not attend) took place in Paris at the end of last week. Unlike previous summits – in Tunis and Istanbul – this summit was attended by representatives of 103 states, which shows the robust preoccupation that the international community has for the fate of the Syrian people subjected to the savage repression of the Assad regime, and stood out through what the new French President said (one should not forget the role that France played in Syria’s modern history). Namely, that the crisis in Syria is “a threat to international security and peace.” In diplomatic language, the international media shows, Hollande’s statement means that this crisis has to be considered as falling under Chapter 7 of the UN Charter, meaning it is susceptible to foreign armed intervention. It remains to be seen whether this position adopted by France, which is traditionally interested in Syria’s fate, will mean an acceleration of EU pressure for a quicker solution to the crisis. Diplomatic circles and the international media have deduced, following the recent developments in the Syrian file that the days of the Assad regime are quickly coming to an end. Not only did Western states become more firm in stating that this can no longer continue in this manner – namely by tarrying things, all the while the Assad regime continuing to repress its own population and to amplify the number of victims – but even Russia is considering joining an action to replace the Assad regime, according to trustworthy sources. For Russian experts, Moscow’s interest in solving this crisis resides not in arms deals or in the Tartus base, but rather in the fact that a solution that would include the removal of the Assad regime could mean strengthening radical Islamism in the region, and hence its expanded influence in neighbouring countries including Russia. On the other hand, Russia has opened a path towards an active presence in the Middle East, accelerating the warming up of ties with Israel. President Vladimir Putin’s visit in Israel at the start of July and the openings he made shows that Moscow believes that containing Islamism in this region can determine ample changes in its geopolitical orientations. It is undeniable that once Russia is convinced that a regime change in Damascus will not mean the pre-eminence of radical Islamism in this country it will agree with the peaceful end of the Assad regime, namely without external armed intervention, and the Syrian file will have been closed. For a while of course, because transitions are always long and full of the unforeseen. Including in the Syrian case.

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