What could be cooperation
It is difficult to wage war when your allies cannot agree on who the enemy is. This is exactly the situation the United States has encountered in Syria. Washington is trying to persuade allies from the Persian Gulf, who want to fight the Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad, but not radical Islamists, in an attempt to create a coalition to fight. He has to deal with Turkey, which opposes Assad and radical Islamists, but wants to fight mainly with the Kurds. Another US ally, Israel, is hesitantly looking at the swirling maelstrom of its enemies and, it seems, is ready to intervene only if serious threats arise. Finally, Germany wants to arm the Kurds, and American special forces are already interacting with them. In all this confusion, it is not surprising that the results of the struggle with the self-proclaimed “Islamic State” (ISIL) of the coalition today are very disappointing.
And here Russia comes into play with a small coalition and decisive goals. Russian President Vladimir Putin is determined to regain the influence and prestige of his country in the Middle East. In Syria, Russia is acting to save its last Arab friend, Assad, so that a radical Sunni government or (less likely) a pro-American government composed of opposition members currently in exile does not come to power. After Syria, Russia looks at Iraq, where American prestige has fallen due to the fact that ISIL quite successfully keeps the occupied territories. Iraq for Russia may be the biggest trophy, because there 150 billions of barrels of oil and vivid memories of the failed American intervention.
In the Middle East, Russia has several advantages. Firstly, there she has not very conflicting interests. For comparison, American politicians face an impossible task, because they have to please many key allies, whose demands are often contradictory and mutually exclusive to each other - Israelis, Saudis, Qatari, Turks and Iraqis. On the side of Russia are two countries - Iran and Syria, and both of them fully approve of its presence in the region. The third partner, Iraq, is also rapidly moving to its side.
And then there are widespread views. Many in this region believe that there is no good from the United States, and the United States doesn’t do much to convince them otherwise. Meanwhile, Russia's promise to use all its power for a quick solution of the problem quite naturally seems attractive to those whose lives are under threat throughout the crisis.
The United States has a choice, albeit a poor one. They may demand that Russia stop its campaign, but this will only play into the hands of those who spread rumors that the United States is not really interested in destroying ISIS. This will allow Russia to act alone. But if the Russians succeed in stabilizing the situation in Syria and Iraq without the United States, to which they seem determined, this will be a powerful blow to the American state.
Further, Russian intervention against all rebel groups could initiate a new wave of jihadism, which would harm all interested parties. The United States can follow the example of Turkey and the Gulf countries that want to increase support for the rebels. But by doing so, America will be at one with the radicals, which after the end of the conflict will be impossible to control. But if the United States joins the antiterrorist coalition in the Putin version, they will, in effect, support the man (Assad), who is accused of dictatorship and of destroying the civilian population.
There is another option: the United States and Europe can reject all calls to add fuel to the fire. Instead, they can join forces with Russia, Iran and Turkey to stop the supply. weapons to Syria.
The games are over.
The common goal for the West and Russia at the final stage of the struggle may be a federal structure in which non-Salafi Sunni rebel forces, Kurds and Alawites will coexist peacefully. To achieve this goal, all parties must cooperate in the fight against ISIL and other radical elements, while at the same time striving for a ceasefire between Assad and the rebels from outside the Salafi camp. In order to attract Assad to this interaction, Russia must give guarantees of protection and undertake to revise the Syrian electoral law from 2011, the law on local elections and the new edition of article 8 of the country's constitution from 1973. This section states that the Syrian Baath Party is the only leading party in Syria. And although Assad will certainly be against change, he (under pressure) may agree to hold free and fair elections in new autonomous regions. Prior to that, he must agree to a referendum on the federal structure of Syria and the disputed territories.
In this scenario, Assad will be able to bow out and save his reputation during transparent elections. Such an outcome may seem unacceptable to many, but there is no alternative. If Assad loses power in some other way, the Salafi militants will strengthen and expand their positions, and the Alawites, Druze and Christians will be expelled and exterminated, as will moderate Sunnis. And if Assad does not leave, the war will last forever.
Of course, the transition period with elections can begin without further negotiations on a sustainable cease-fire, not to mention the work of international observers. But such a situation in reality can only be created by Russia and the United States - if they act together.
Syria owed Russia several billion dollars. The United States may ask Putin to use the promise of debt relief to rescue the devastated Syrian economy as a lever of pressure on Assad to re-turn to a political decision. Russia can agree to this. In the end, otherwise, she and her allies will have to support the Syrian army and government, which in essence has failed, indefinitely. The Russian economy was marked by a recession, and a long war in Syria could be unacceptable for Putin.
In turn, the United States and the European Union can link support for the transition period in Syria with a relief of the sanctions regime against Russia. They can also offer their partner Turkey to put pressure on Russia, showing it the feasibility of a negotiated solution. In the next five years, Turkey intends to increase trade with Russia from 32 to 100 billions of dollars. These countries also intend to build the Turkish Stream gas pipeline with an 60 capacity of billions of cubic meters of gas per year in order to supply gas to the European market. The US and the EU can sweeten the agreement for Ankara by returning the Patriot missiles to Turkey, which were supposedly withdrawn from there for repair and modernization, and because Asad lost the northern part of Syria, the range of the Syrian air forces decreased. Now, when Russian planes are flying in the Syrian sky, Turkey is again nervous. She needs additional security guarantees, but they should be given as part of a mutual agreement.
The European Union must also do its bit and reduce Russia's concern that Syria could become a breeding ground for the seasoned Chechen militants who belong to such groups as Jaish al-Muhajirin, which could launch attacks against former Soviet states. To do this, European countries should make it clear to Ankara that attacks on Kurds and the refusal to stop financial flows and supply of weapons to the Jaish al-Fatah group (which includes Chechen militants) may adversely affect Turkey’s accession to the EU and the provision of Turkish billions of dollars in aid. Of course, Chechen fighters also join the ranks of ISIS, but the cessation of external support to all the radicals in Syria is only one important component of the overall strategy to reduce their combat capability and reduce the sphere of influence that could reach Moscow, Ankara and Washington.
When all parties agree to negotiations, they can get together in Moscow, which will be in line with Russia's desire to play a leading role in this region. Negotiations could lead the rebels and the government to enter into a direct discussion, which was not achieved in Geneva. To this end, Turkey can guarantee the continuation of financial support to the remaining non-Salafi opposition members, provided that they refuse to cooperate with Jabhat al-Nusra and undertake a formal obligation to protect minorities. In turn, Russia must inform Assad of the need for direct negotiations, because Putin cannot allow Syria to become a bottomless barrel, where it will have to endlessly pour in financial and military aid.
For the duration of the talks and the transition period, the Syrian army and the rebels will not be allowed to retain their weapons, but only to protect the local population from ISIL and other terrorists. A contingent of observers will be sent to Syria to control this process. Meanwhile, fighting on the battlefield shoulder to shoulder with both sides of the coalition will be allowed only to those nongovernmental forces that fight with the Salafis - that is, the YPG forces of 25 000 people, as well as the government troops and the rebels, who maintain their static defense areas. Since the role of YPG causes a lot of controversy, the movements of these units will have to be coordinated with the Turks. Ultimately, the removal of Salafi militants from the general brawl will be the key to ensuring lasting peace in the region.
New Syria will have to become a federative country. This is even recognized by Assad: he made it clear that he had abandoned the idea of liberating certain areas from the rebels. In the Alawite Autonomous Region, Russia will retain Tartus. She will be responsible for the protection of Christian minorities and their former allies. The countries of the Persian Gulf and Turkey will continue to control their security zones, providing financial assistance and highlighting peacekeepers.
In the Sunni areas, international assistance will be aimed at depriving the Salafi of support and enabling the Russians and the Western coalition to fight against ISIL. Of course, help will not force the fanatic to lay down their arms, but if you support politicians participating in the peace process, it will be possible to prevent the recruitment process into the Salafi ranks. Sophisticated help will require special control, as there will be a lot of opportunities for waste and theft.
In the meantime, Kurdish troops will play the role of the ground forces. They will cut off Raqqa in Syria and stifle ISIS, while forces supported by Russia and the United States in Iraq will continue to fight from their side of the border. Kurdish troops remain neutral with respect to Assad (although they note that over time he should peacefully give up power), and also maintain good relations with Russians, Americans and non-Salafi elements in the ranks of Syrian rebels.
To begin negotiations under such a plan, Moscow has already hosted rebel leaders, leaders of Kurds and Iranians. But its ties with the states of the Persian Gulf are limited. It goes without saying that the West will have to use its leverage on Saudi Arabia to stop supporting Sunni radicals. In fact, the United States has already demonstrated in 2008 its willingness and ability to exert diplomatic pressure on the Saudis, who have limited support for Salafis in Iraq.
There is also the question of who will pay for the post-war reconstruction of the country. According to the UN, the Syrian economy will need to recover at least 30 years. Russia and the United States will have to lead an international donor conference that will discuss the revitalization of Syria. It should be conducted in the image and likeness of the Madrid Conference on the Reconstruction of Iraq, which took place in 2003 year. Then managed to collect 33 billion dollars in the form of grants and loans. This is only a small fraction of what is needed for the restoration of Syria, but this is at least some beginning. Russian-American cooperation in the framework of this project will also mark the beginning of a new era of soft power, influencing potential allies.
Can such a tangled web of diplomatic pressure produce results? Perhaps the era of peaceful rivalry between the United States and Russia for their influence on Afghanistan, which lasted until the end of 1950, gives a hint at what can be achieved by using aid for the purchase of agricultural equipment, for digging irrigation canals, for building plants, and not for acquiring anti-tank missiles and Kalashnikov assault rifles. At the same time, the absence of free and fair elections in Afghanistan provides us with an edifying lesson about how quickly all this can turn into nothing.
The past shows us how quickly times change. In 2009, when US President Barack Obama launched a diplomatic campaign of rapprochement with Syria, Assad said: “We will be happy to welcome him to Syria, definitely. I say this in no uncertain terms. ” Obama, in response, highlighted the problematic issues, but expressed hope for future cooperation. In the same year, former Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al Maliki accused Assad of harboring terrorists who had recently struck Baghdad. Today, Iraq has essentially become a new ally of Syria. But in the year 2009 in Iraq there was no ISIS, but there was only a weakening Al-Qaeda. Seeing how quickly times change, we must remember that in the Middle East nothing can be ruled out.
One thing is certain. Only big players can achieve change in this crisis. The end result will not appeal to everyone; Attempts to create super-coalitions from dozens of countries for endless negotiations will lead the situation to an even bigger dead end. Worse yet, rival coalitions will invest their strength and resources in conflicting goals.
It is time for the US and Russia to start working together to stop the flow of deadly weapons flowing into the Syrian hell, and to remove from the battlefields in Iraq and Syria those who have never entered into negotiations with anyone. In this way, they will clear the way for a peaceful transition, and perhaps give Syria a better future.