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February 25, 2021

About Eastern Question 2.0: Syria and Europe – May 16, 2016 (II)

The development of the situation in Syria after 2014 wasn’t good at all. The birth of the Islamic caliphate and its quick enlargement both in Syria and Iraq have complicated in an extremely high extent the landscape of the Syrian civil war.

Daesh has gradually acquired a strong operational capacity, especially because of the massive influx of foreign recruits (within Muslim minorities from the Western Europe, even from Balkans, as well as from Russia or former soviet republics in Asia), while through their methods (public beheadings, mass carnages, mass conversions to Islam) they have determined new influxes of refugees to the neighbor countries. Christians and other minorities of a multi centenarian age in Syria were forced to bear tortures that are hard to be described, marking a new modern episode of the ethnic-religious cleansing phenomenon. The religious dynamic has acquired a more and more accentuated appearance of the intra-Islamic fight between two poles, Sunni and Shia. This intra-Islamic competition is best underlined in the ensemble of the Syrian civil war.

Bashar al-Assad, the authoritarian Syrian leader, against whose regime was initiated the rebellion in 2011, is a representative of the Alawi – a branch of the Shia denomination. A more and more compact Sunni rebellion has been coagulated against him. So external forces involved in Syria have lined up to this Syrian inner model of the confrontation. The Sunni forces – Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Qattar, etc. – have strongly supported the Sunni rebel factions against the Assad regime, which was similar to an ambiguous or even neutral behavior related to the terrorist jihad of AlQuaida, Nusra and Islamic caliphate.

The Assad regime was more and more strongly supported by Iran, namely by the Government established by the Shia majority at Bagdad (Iraqi Shia militias are fighting in Syria), as well as by the Hezbollah of Lebanon, an enemy of Israel. Concluding the nuclear convention with Iran (signed by the five Member States having the veto right in the UN Security Council, to which has been added Germany and EU) in July 2015, was a major opportunity for Russia to perform the military action in the Syrian civil war (late in September 2015). Russia was back the geopolitical framework of the Middle East, after 50 years of absence. Its old connections with Assad regime (Moscow had a military base at the Mediterranean Sea, near the Syrian Latakia, since the Cold War) have determined Russia to support the governmental forces by air and with logistic means.

The governmental forces have shortly taken back the lost territory (to the dissatisfaction of Turkey, which even took down a Russian bombardier at November 24, 2015, making a more complicated Syrian puzzle), so the context of the confrontation in Syria was going to be simpler from now on. It seemed more and more clear that the result of the civil war was going to be established by the fight between Assad regime, supported by the abovementioned external forces, and Daesh, which was a target for the shootings performed also by the coalition organized by USA (more than 60 countries), as well as by the Kurdish forces which were located at the Turkish border, also supported by USA and Russia. The diplomatic battle front (which has always been present, but inefficient in the Syrian civil war) has been activated and in early December 2015, a Sunni coalition has been made at Ryadh, consisting of more than 30 states, together with the already existing coalitions – the one established by USA and the one supporting the Assad regime.

On December 18, 2015, UN Security Council unanimously adopted a resolution which stated a peace process in Syria, and which was released after signing a truce between the warring forces in this country, and later a negotiating process, followed by a period of transition to a parliamentary system. The result of the previous confidential negotiations was that the entire diplomatic arrangement for solving the civil war in Syria has two main sponsors: USA and Russia, who are coordinating both their diplomatic and military actions (by a coordinating cell especially established). This major role of USA and Russia has been highlighted again on the occasion of the launching the ceasefire process and of the preparation of negotiations between the representatives of the warring forces in Geneva, when the efforts made by the two great powers have been efficient. On February 27, 2016, a ceasefire agreement has been established and the selection of the negotiators has begun. Of course, terrorist organizations Daesh, Al Quaida and Nusra were excluded, as well as Kurdish representatives, especially the Democratic Union Party (PYD), due to the Turkish opposition. The negotiations started at the half of March in Geneva weren’t easy.

The forces belonging to the Assad regime have breached the ceasefire, launching their attack in Palmyra and Aleppo, being supported by the Russian bombardiers (it seems that there was an understanding between the sponsors on the occasion of the Munchen conference since 12-14 February 2016); on the other hand, Turkey has launched artillery attacks on Kurdish positions in Northern Syria. More than that, the Kurdish PYD has established an autonomous administration in some of the city under their control, before the negotiations have ended. The negotiations can be deemed as technically ceased, although the accredited representatives are still in Geneva, and the UN representative makes huge efforts to avoid failure. In this circumstances, other events have been complicated the process launched by Russia and USA in accordance with the UN resolution. On the one hand, an agreement between EU and Turkey has been initiated on the matter of the refugees.

To avoid a new influx of Syrian refugees in Europe, the agreement provided the financial support for Ankara, as well as the acceptance of speeding up the process of Turkey’s adhesion to EU and the visa free regime for the Turkish citizens in EU Member States starting this summer. EU requirements, such as the need to amend the Turkish anti-terrorist laws according to which the South East of Turkey is a real war theater of the security forces and of the Kurdish militants, as well as ceasing the reprisals against Media and against the critic academic instances on the regime, have attracted the negative answer of the President Erdogan (while PM Davutoglu, the negotiator of the agreement with EU, has been resigned). The agreement has minimal chances to be implemented (although it is officially still in force), so a new influx of refugees threatens Europe not only from Turkey, but from Libya, too.

On the other hand, Daesh has launched a new survival strategy: following the situation that their territories have diminished to less than a half, due to the blows on the Syrian front, they started to perform kamikaze attacks killing dozens or even hundreds of people both in Iraqi Capital, Bagdad, and in Turkey (here they have also launched missiles in some areas). Therefore, the threat of an answer of Turkey in Syria is looming, together with a weakening of the political stability in Iraq.

In such a complex of events, was held on May 17, in Vienna, the meeting of the Ministers of Foreign Affairs of the main involved states in the Syrian conflict,  and the sponsors USA and Russia had the main role. This is the moment in which Europe’s voice (still shy, it’s true) has been heard. Before opening the conference, some UN diplomats stated under anonymity that Europeans “tend to be pretty skeptical about the U.S.-Russia bilateralism“, that there are also other creative modalities to reach to a solution in the Syrian case. “But we haven’t got anywhere near having that discussion with the Syrians themselves because the U.S. and Russia have been trying to bridge the gap, and they haven’t been able to do so”, the UN diplomat added. And he also concluded: “So that’s why we have got to come back and multilateralize this.” (Michelle Nichols, John Irish, U.S., Russia stalemate on Syria frustrates European powers, May 16, 2016-http://www.reuters.com/article/us-mideast-crisis-russia-usa-idUSKCN0Y728U). Europe appreciates that “the Russian-American bilateralism”, namely sponsoring the peace process in Syria by these two great countries, has been reached to the end of its possibilities, therefore we need a multilateral approach/sponsoring action. But what does it mean?

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