It’s been reported that leaders of Russia, Turkey and Iran will meet in Sochi on November 22 to discuss the Syrian conflict, and specifically, settlement matters. This meeting is in no way connected with the Syrian National Dialogue Congress, which is going to be held in the future, even though the exact date remains unannounced.
The upcoming trilateral meeting involves Moscow informing Ankara and Tehran of its new position on the Syrian settlement. This shift became noticeable after the summit in Da Nang, where US President Donald Trump refused to hold a bilateral meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin. But the foreign ministers of Russia and the US agreed to issue a joint statement on the situation in Syria, which had no mention of the Astana talks in it. However, Russia, Turkey and Iran have been sponsors of the peace talks that were being held in the capital of Kazakhstan.
But the Russian-American statement says a lot about the Geneva process and the withdrawal of foreign troops from Syria. Namely, Russian, Iranian and Turkish troops. Washington has no intention to leave, even though its troops never had permission to enter Syria’s territory, so they’ve been operating inside Syria illegally. The only excuse they could have had to be in Syria could be provided by a UN resolution, yet no such resolution has been passed. It must also be remembered that on November 15 the United States announced its intention to create a military base in Syria in territory controlled by the SDF, following the assumption that all of Syria’s oil fields will fall under the control of Kurdish militants Washington has been sponsoring.
It’s no wonder that Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan communicated with President Putin for four hours during his visit to Sochi in mid-November in a bid to clarify the joint US-Russian statement on Syria, asking questions about the stay of Russia troops and the motivation behind Damascus’ six year resistance against foreign sponsored militants.
There’s yet another aspect of the upcoming meeting – economic. While ISIS is on its last legs, the process of rebuilding Syria’s economy and infrastructure has started, but there is the question of who will ultimately finance it all.
Where could Russia find up to a hundred billion dollars to restore Syria without Damascus controlling its own oil reserves? The reason is quite obvious, Russia’s treasury has no excess of resources due to the recent fall in oil prices coupled with anti-Russian sanctions imposed by the West.
There is no doubt that Turkey, Iran and Russia were counting on Syria’s oil and gas fields to come under the control of Damascus. But this has not happened, and instead were captured by the SDF sponsored and supported by the United States.
Turkey also lacks resources to restore Syria, especially in initial stages of reconstruction. This leaves Ankara in no position to restore the norther territory of Syria it controls.
Iran also has had financial difficulties lately, but Tehran has finished products that can be delivered directly to Syria. And acting both from a sense of Shia solidarity and with a number of strategic calculations, Iran will help Syria.
Should the EU and the Persian Gulf monarchies be allowed to take part in the restoration of Syria, a natural question arises: for whose interests has Russia, Iran and Turkey been fighting in Syria? Will Russia be forced to surrender Syria to those states responsible for destroying it, namely pro-Washington and pro-Saudi forces? They have the money, technology, and assets to invest in Syria and subsequently reap enormous returns.
So the leaders of Russia, Turkey and Iran have a lot to discuss in Sochi. And Erdogan is in the most advantageous position among three – he will get his piece of the pie due to Turkey’s status as a NATO member.
The concerns of those who are about to meet in Sochi are clear and easy to understand. They have a lot in common but also a lot to argue about. Russia wants to gain a foothold in Syria, given the strategic geographic location of the country. It could also be beneficial to build a stretch of pipeline, reaching to Iran’s South Pars deposits. This stretch could transport Russian gas to Europe through the Mediterranean via the so-called Turkish flow, along with the gas from Iraq and Azerbaijan. And then Moscow would finally be able to overcome major hurdles involved with transporting gas via Ukraine. While being more firmly entrenched in Syria, Russia could more actively cooperate with Iraq, Jordan, Israel and even Saudi Arabia. And, of course, with Lebanon.
But the problem of the joint statement in Da Nang is now looming over this entire process, since it has once again shown that Washington is after Russia, and that it would do anything to replace President Vladimir Putin and Moscow’s political circles with a regime loyal to Washington. It applies its pressure through sanctions, Ukraine, North Korea and Syria – from all directions. They want Putin to surrender his right to be elected in the elections of 2018 or even try to block him from within via pro-American Russian elites dissatisfied with the possibility of their accounts being frozen in the West. The White House can also try to exploit the frustration of Russia’s military, which is dissatisfied with the developments in Donbass and Syria.
And the Russian leader, especially after Da Nang, understands this perfectly. Washington is equally eager to destroy pro-Iranian elites in Damascus ever since Assad’s brother Maher al-Assad was relieved of command of the Republican Guards.
The failure of the upcoming meeting in Sochi will only be beneficial to the United States and its allies, primarily Saudi Arabia, Israel and the Syrian Kurds. Should Russia withdraw its troops from Syria now, then Iran and Hezbollah will not last long. In such a scenario, Iran will have to send several divisions of its elite troops armed with heavy military equipment to Syria. And Tel-Aviv will do anything to prevent this scenario from taking place. Should things unravel, Turkey will withdraw support of Iran in Syria without Russia’s presence since it is the only link between Ankara and Tehran today. It is clear that this can result in the rapid fall of Assad’s government and Syria will fall into the hands of the armed opposition, sponsored by the United States and Saudi Arabia.
Turkey could still count on maintaining its presence in the north in the Turkoman regions. The Alawites will not be allowed to create their enclave in Latakia and along the Mediterranean coast – since they do not have enough forces to do so. And the Kurds will be able to create autonomy in the northeast of the country, while retaining control over Syria’s oil. As for Israel, it will be allowed to control the Golan Heights indefinitely. Saudi Arabia and the GCC will take this as payment for the military support of Tel-Aviv.
So the upcoming discussions in Sochi will be tough. And, taking into account the format of the meeting, it is clear that difficult decisions are to be made. Otherwise, why would Russia fight for Syria for so long, spending billions of dollars on this struggle, only to allow the US to create a military base and occupy Syria’s oil reserves?
Mistakes were made during military operations in Syria and mistakes were made in Astana, as the factor of SDF and Washington was not properly taken into account. This all delayed the military operation. It was imperative to destroy the terrorists and the armed opposition, instead of engaging them in endless and fruitless negotiations.
Peter Lvov, Ph.D in political science, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook.”