EDITORIAL

About Eastern Question 2.0: Syria and Europe-May 16, 2016 (III)

First of all, in order to give an answer to the question: “What does the multilateral approach in the Syrian matter means?” we have to ask ourselves why Europe chose this moment to express her own dissatisfaction (otherwise, a prudent one, expressed under the anonymity).

Since Europe is satisfied by the fact that USA and Russia are bearing the burden of solving the Syrian case, it was anxiously waiting the result of the Brexit, as well as the reappearing of the Grexit in this summer; therefore it was expecting two crises with an important impact on the cohesion and survival of the continental union project. At the same time, it has repeated that Russia is expected to accomplish Minsk II, in order to be removed the sanctions related to the annexation of Crimea in 2014, EU being actually divided regarding the behavior it should adopt in front of the Russia’s assertiveness in the East of the continent.

Therefore, Brussels appreciated that an agreement with Turkey, even likely to be criticized, is better than the interference in the high geopolitical crisis from Syria. But the developments in Turkey weren’t exactly the expected ones. The agreement concluded with the Turkish PM Davutoglu about re-engaging the refugees in Turkey against a substantial financial support on March 18, was approved by the European Parliament in late April 2016, but accompanied by certain conditions which weren’t agreed by the Turkish President, T. Erdogan.

Consequently, Europe is facing a great unknown situation: how will it cope with the new influx of refugees who are ready to go from Turkey or Libya? In front of this major threat, Germany even thought at the “plan B”, namely transforming Greece in a huge camp for refugees if Turkey will waive to implement the agreement, establishing even the necessary budget in this regard. It considered also using Sudan as a shelter for refugees, providing the leader of this country (whose reputation is questionable following the post-civil war situation in this country) the necessary equipment in order to absorb and register the migrants from Africa.

Therefore, a quick solution in the Syrian civil war matter doesn’t seem considerable for Europe, especially because the ceasefire agreement from February is frequently violated, while the negotiations at Geneva are stucked.  On the other hand, EU has in its front both the threat of an unfavorable result of the British referendum (on June 23) and the prolongation of the sanctions against Russia (July 31) where a consensus is not reached yet. It’s a real nightmare to manage such crisis in a limited period of few months. Not to mention that NATO Summit from Warsaw in July 2016 will also try EU’s solidity by debating on the Atlantic alliance’s orientation (to South, in Mideast, or to East, towards Russia).

There is also another issue. It was stated in the American Congress that the Syrian case will not be solved only by diplomatic means, that in the absence of a military change on the ground, a solution is far to be reached, however not in the near future. Or, the same analysis notes that a ceasefire agreement creates the needed space for negotiations, but one of the sponsors (Russia), as well as Iran are not interested by its prolongation, because the changes on the ground are favorable to Assad, their favorite.

But on the other hand, maintaining the Assad regime with the Iran’s support is an unseemly alternative for Israel, because a terrible enemy of its existence, namely Teheran, is brought in its immediate vicinity this way. As it was mentioned in the day before the meeting of the group of donor states for Syria, which took place at May 17 in Vienna, the European diplomatic groups circulate the idea that USA either has overstated the influence that Moscow can have on the Damask regime, or they are not wishful or capable to force Russia to have a more rough attitude towards its favorite.  Or, in the entire file of the solution primed by the ceasefire in February 2016, the main problem appeared to be the political survival of the leader Bashar al-Assad. As the Saudi Foreign Minister, Al-Jubeir, said on May 16, the rebels have to be well armed to be capable to remove Assad from Damask: “The choice is Bashar al-Assad’s/…/He will be removed, either through a political process or through military force.” Or, such an attitude was anticipating not only the blocking of the entire peaceful solving, but also the continuation of the civil war. Some people are not avoiding making predictions covering ten years of civil war. Russia had to defend itself in Vienna, against the accusation of supporting the Assad regime; the Foreign Minister, S. Lavrov, stated that Russia doesn’t support the Syrian leader, but “the fight against terrorism, and we don’t see a better alternative to doing that than the Syrian army”. In these circumstances, we have to mention that his American homologue, J. Kerry, underlined that Russia “has made it very clear” that Assad has signed arrangements related his participation at the peace process (including elections), but in order to make this process possible, the ceasefire agreement has to be respected first. However, it’s obvious that the European powers participating at the meeting in Vienna were determined to ask Russia to put Assad under pressure in order to respect the ceasefire or even to leave the power. “What we now need to see the Russians doing is calling their client to order and making sure that the Assad regime delivers on the obligations that Russia is making on its behalf in these meetings”, stated the British Foreign Minister, Philip Hammond. On the other hand, Germany requested measures in order to determine the end of Assad’s political leadership “because there can be no lasting future for this country with Assad.” We also have to mention that in this stage we can see an increased resistance of the European power in cancelling the economic sanctions against Russia, which were established since 2014, and which have to be renewed on July 2016, for 6 more months.

The observers of the international context are frequently connecting the success of the Russian-American plan in Syria to the probability of cancelling the economic sanctions against Russia, which were adopted following the separatist actions in the Eastern Ukraine. It’s not hard to understand that this way, Europe is pressing Russia to convince its favorite from Damask to comply with the ceasefire agreement. At the meeting in Vienna it was confirmed that the already established deadlines will be maintained, including conclusion of an agreement at Geneva for starting the transition process to the Syrian elections, meaning that the ceasefire agreement is expected to be reinforced.

Therefore, Europe is sure that Russia will act in the expected way and the influx of refugees towards the continent will not be increased by more migrating Syrian people. At the same time, it was agreed that on June 1, the humanitarian aid, which meets great obstacles due to resumption of fights in certain Syrian areas seriously affected, should be resumed. But Assad problem is still open, representing a real obstacle for the negotiations at Geneva and, consequently, for starting the transition process, including the elections.

In these extremely fluid and unpredictable circumstances, the Egyptian leader, El Sissi, offered his support related to the recent suggestion of France to hold a peace conference in Mideast, in which Israel should establish an agreement with the Palestinians. Jerusalem has already rejected the French plan, arguing that only direct negotiations with the Palestinians are an acceptable solution; so it included also the acceptance of the political formula of “two states”, but at the same time it underlined that it’s ready to join Egypt and the Arab states in “advancing the peace process and stability in the region”.

Therefore it seems that in the current phase, the Syrian file has the perspective of an immediate opening to the American-Russian plan of a peaceful solution for the civil war, but considering the removal of Assad, which is embraced by the Europeans, or, if this action fails, a conference like the one suggested by France which targets a more general peaceful solution in Mideast. This perspective has not delayed to cause governmental actions in Israel, namely strengthening the hardliners and tight control of the army to handle any unexpected possibilities. Because the Syrian file is open to such developments in the coming weeks.

 

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