The situation in Syria emerged from the acute crisis in which it was in the fall. The situation on the fronts more or less stabilized. The presence of Russian videoconferencing systems is recognized as legitimate, effective, and very useful for fighting terrorists even by critics of Moscow, many of whom are currently wondering: why did the Pentagon behave so passively before the start of the Russian operation?
The withdrawal from Syria of a part of the Russian Aerospace Forces was a response to the fears (and hopes of ill-wishers) that Russia will “bog down” in a war on the territory of this country, like it was in Afghanistan. The rebuilt Syrian army was able to carry out an attack on Palmyra and did not give up its position in the north in the Aleppo area. Surprisingly long-term was a truce initiated by the Russian military. At the same time, the civil war is far from over. Consider the current state of affairs and the immediate prospects of the Syrian opposition, relying on the work of experts of the institute A. A. Kuznetsov and Yu. B. Shcheglovina prepared for IBI.
Under the sun, less space
The partial withdrawal of the Russian military group from Syria and the peace process launched by Moscow and Washington in this country opened a qualitatively new stage in the development of the stalled military-political conflict that lasted for five years. At the same time, the sentiments of the opposition, some of which are trying to find themselves in a new reality of compromise, began to mature, and the other categorically rejected this. This substantively demonstrates who in the future post-war Syria has a chance of integrating into the system, and who has no such definition by definition (and it will only be necessary to blame the “irreconcilable” for yourself).
Those of them who have never come to terms with the turning point in the war and do not express readiness to get out of the conflict, while this is being proposed by the government, under the guarantees of the Russian ASC, still hope for a military victory over Assad with the support of Turkey, Qatar and Saudi Arabia. In Syria, Ankara, Doha and Riyadh are not seeking to harmonize the conditions for the gradual withdrawal of militants from the war and their compromise with Damascus Assad and his supporting Tehran, but for absolute domination in the global confrontation between Sunnis and Shiites. This trinity does not accept any other ways out of the crisis, until the opposition groups that it encourages will be finally defeated.
The official negotiating process, launched in Geneva, is moving extremely slowly and is unlikely to lead to significant results in the near future. There are two main reasons. First, the emigre opposition, with which negotiations are being held in Geneva, does not control the armed formations in Syria itself, having insignificant influence on them. That is, it can negotiate with anyone about anything, but it doesn’t affect the situation on the front, once again recalling that it was “the rifle that gives rise to power” and demonstrating the primary role of the military (including domestic) before diplomats in real politics. Secondly, the Syrian opposition is split by the different interests of the main sponsors: Turkey, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United States.
Over time, its fragmentation for objective reasons increases. In anticipation of negotiations, all armed groups in the field make plans to win back the most advantageous positions for themselves, which leads to conflicts between yesterday's allies. An example is the clashes that unfolded on March 27 – 30 between two US-supported factions near the city of Marea, north of Aleppo. Militants from the Furkan Al-Hakk detachments, patronized by the CIA, attacked the representatives of the Syrian democratic forces, who are under the direct and open patronage of the Pentagon. The latter are a coalition of armed militias, on 80 percent consisting of Kurds, with 20 percent Arab and Turkish troops. The militia includes the formation of the Kurdish Democratic Union Party (PDS) of Saleh Muslim, detachments of Syrian Assyrian Christians and the Syrian Revolutionary Army (Jaysh al-Suvar), assembled from the remnants of the once widely publicized United States and its NATO allies, the Syrian Free Army (SSA) . The structure of "Jeish al-Suvar" included fighters of two opposition groups - "Harakat al-Hazm" ("Movement of Resolve") and "Syrian Revolutionary Front". In addition to them, there are two divisions of Syrian turkomans in the self-defense forces fighting the fight against international terrorism: “Liva al-Saladjik” and “Liva Sultan Murad”.
Along with this, attempts are being made to oust the secular armed opposition by radical extremist groups, the leading among which is taken by the terrorist Dzhebhat al-Nusra, which is recognized in Russia. On March 25, its militants marched in the north of Idlib province against the 13 Brigade SSA. As a result of the fighting, the Islamists managed to oust the “moderate” units from the provinces. According to an expert from the University of Michigan, Juan Cole, the overwhelming majority of the American “moderate” groups in the Idlib and Aleppo provinces weapons was taken away from them by jihadists (or transferred to them voluntarily). This gives every reason to recall the scandal in the US Congress over the transition to the side of “Dzhebhat al-Nusra” (officially captured) of two groups of “moderate opposition”, for the preparation of which in Turkey 500 million dollars were allocated.
The last month has demonstrated a significant activation of Dzhebhat an-Nusra in Syria. Its armed forces concentrate north of Aleppo and are fighting with Kurdish self-defense units in the Sheikh Maksoud area. Two factors stimulate this activity. First, the group, despite the intensive lobbying of US diplomats, is officially included in the list of terrorist organizations and is now trying to win at least some place under the sun. Secondly, after the announcement of a truce and a reduction in the intensity of hostilities, the popularity of jihadists among ordinary Syrians began to decline. In the areas occupied by the militants of Dzhebhat an-Nusra, protest demonstrations are taking place, the participants of which chant: “Damn your soul, Dzhulani” (leader of the Islamist group). Along with Abu Mohammed al-Julani, the leader of the banned “Islamic State” in Russia, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, and the official pro-Assad mufti of Syria, Ahmed Badreddin al-Hassun, are subject to a curse.
“Dzhebhat an-Nusra” suffers losses. On April 4, Abu Firas al-Suri, the main ideologue and preacher of the Support Front, was killed in the Syrian air force bombing. A veteran of the jihadist movement in Syria. In 1982, he took part in the uprising of the Muslim Brotherhood in the city of Hama, and later as a volunteer participated in jihad in Afghanistan. I personally knew Abdullah Azzam and Osama bin Laden, lived for a long time in Yemen, where he participated in the activities of the local Al-Qaeda, and in 2011-m returned to Syria for the war against the Assad government. According to the Lebanese newspaper Al Akhbar, at the time of the raid several militants from Uzbekistan were near Abu Firas.
The further fragmentation of the Syrian opposition is evidenced by the congress of its new alliance, Ghad al-Suriya (Tomorrow of Syria), held on March 12 in Cairo, led by the former chairman of the Syrian national coalition, Ahmed Jarba. The Al-Arabi al-Jadid Internet portal writes that Tomorrow Syria will lobby for the interests of Russia, the UAE and Egypt. In terms of Egypt and the United Arab Emirates, these words are not so far from the truth. The Egyptians are trying to actively engage in the political process around Damascus since June 2015, when a meeting of the National Coordinating Committees of Syria was held in Cairo. Cairo wants to create an opposition coalition there, an alternative to today's one with a pro-Saud one. Recently, the United Arab Emirates, which are trying to start their own political project, which is different from the Saudi one, have joined these attempts.
The shadow organizer of the said conference was Mohammed Dahlan, who in the past was one of the leaders of the Palestinian Fatah who led the security service in the Gaza Strip before the Hamas movement came to power there. In 2011, after being accused of being involved in Arafat's poisoning, he emigrated to Dubai. In the UAE, he acts as security adviser to Mohammed bin Zayed, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and deputy commander of the Emirates armed forces. According to Al-Arabi al-Jadid, Dahlan arranged for one of the hotels in Cairo, owned by the Egyptian secret service, Ahmed Jarba’s meeting with Kasem Khatib, an opposition figure considered to be the unofficial creature of the Assad government.
There is, however, one item on the Syrian agenda, in which the views of both the most diverse opposition groups and the government coincide. This is a categorical rejection of the Kurdish autonomy and the federal structure of the country. However, this item is unlikely to be able to unite antagonistic Syrian unions. Thus, the Er-Riad group (the All-Union Communist Party or the High Negotiating Committee) continues to put forward at the Geneva talks the demands for the withdrawal of Assad and the transfer of all power to the opposition. This is a prerequisite for their participation in the negotiations, as Alexey Borodavkin, the Permanent Representative of the Russian Federation at the UN office and other international organizations in Geneva, said in an interview with TASS.
The opposition demands that all power in the SAR overnight be transferred to it, and not to join the government of national unity with representatives of the current legal institutions. At the same time, Russia “cannot but be alarmed by the fact that the Er-Riad opposition rejects the idea of preserving the SAR as a secular state. Behind this, as many suspect, including from the ranks of moderate oppositionists who represent the Moscow-Cairo and Hami groups, there may be a desire to transform Syria into some sort of caliphate, ”the Russian diplomat said. His words regarding the intentions of transforming Syria into a caliphate were repeatedly confirmed in Qatar and Saudi Arabia, although Turkey would rather prefer a split of the country and the inclusion of its northern regions in the new Ottoman Porto led by Erdogan.
However, if not a complete breakdown, then the freezing of progress at the negotiations is now in the interests of not only KSA and Turkey, but also the United States. They should not allow the government forces to take Aleppo, around which the main intrigue is twisted, since the surrender by terrorists of the economic capital of Syria will mean the failure of all the plans of Ankara and Riyadh. With the refusal of Washington and Brussels to support the Turkish idea of a “no-fly zone” over part of Syria and betting on the Kurds as an independent segment of the opposition, such a scenario would mean for them, if not a final fiasco (Idlib should be freed for the complete collapse of the anti-Aassad campaign), then it would start.
Towards the moment of truth
Aleppo, which was originally presented to Ankara and Riyadh as a kind of "Syrian Benghazi" and a springboard from which a large-scale and final attack on Damascus was planned, is justifiably regarded as a "little ass." With the loss of this settlement, only the defense (basically unpromising) of Idlib will be discussed for the Islamist opposition. If, however, this province will be mostly cleaned up by government forces and their allies, the opposition will face fragmentation (which excludes serious offensive operations, including on Damascus), the activation of the accession of the hesitating so far tribal leaders to the truce and in the final of this process - forward movement at the Geneva talks. Diplomatic successes throughout the world stories depended on military victories. Syria is hardly an exception.
The stakes of Saudi Arabia in this case are extremely high. She spent too much money on this conflict (not to mention getting bogged down in Yemen, where the kingdom not only spends money and prestige, but also loses military equipment with personnel). Losing in Syria threatens with serious complications inside KSA for both King Salman himself and, more importantly for him, for his son, who is currently fighting for supreme power in the country. The power of his title of “heir to the heir” does not imply, despite the fact that the king is under his strongest influence and is trying to bring Prince Mohammed bin-Salman to his successors, bypassing other candidates for the throne. All this is superimposed on the risk of a global "loss of face" in the Middle East. Although, we note, the confrontation with Russia in Syria, the Saudis are not yet confused with the agreements with Moscow regarding the freezing of oil production. The latter is also important for the KSA leadership given the impending budget imbalance.
The United States has other interests in the region, and in Syria, they are actually connected only with an attempt to contain Russia as a growing geopolitical player. The figure of President Assad for Washington is a secondary question. Let us assume that the state of affairs of the Allies - whether it is Saudi Arabia, Qatar or Turkey - also. This is evidenced by cold relations with Erdogan, who in the USA is considered a dangerous adventurer, as well as the success of the Saudisceptic in Congress, the Pentagon and the CIA. It was not by chance that the issue of declassifying the closed part of the report on the organizers and customers of the 9 / 11 terrorist act caused a hysteria in Riyadh in the highest echelons of power, triggering a Saudi ultimatum about selling US assets to 750 billions of dollars.
The main thing for Washington in the current period of time is not to allow Moscow to stay on the crest of “strategic success”, which was demonstrated by the capture of Palmyra, which had a great effect on world public opinion. Hence, leaks in the media regarding the possible supply of the opposition with MANPADS systems. There are discussions in the White House about ways of further action in Syria: should the Islamist segment of the opposition be hampered as a centralized structure or, using this and saving face, try to fill the resulting vacuum with loyal States?
Judging by the active training of the rebel structures in Jordan and the growth of the special forces contingent sent to support the Kurds, while the second line of behavior is winning. But this does not mean that the United States is ready to accept the capture of Aleppo by government forces. Accordingly, it is predictable that the "closing of the eyes" of the American military-political leadership on the mass transfer of militants from Turkey to replenish the ranks of terrorist groups and blackmail Moscow with all available means. Against this background, the United States needs progress on the battlefield, which they can write to their assets. This is the capture of Mosul or Raqqa. Moreover, real major success is needed, not the speeches of American politicians about the exploits of the United States in Iraq and Syria.
The importance of taking Aleppo is also realized in Tehran, which after a short break intensifies support for Damascus. In this case, the words of representatives of the Russian General Staff that “so far there are no plans for a joint operation to capture Aleppo”, discussed by American analysts without an understanding of the essence of the subtext, it makes sense to interpret as a transfer of the “wand of the leader” in actions “on the ground” to Iran rather than as a split between Moscow and Tehran.
Americans rightly point out that for Iran, Syria is the moment of truth that will determine the balance of power in the Middle East for at least ten years ahead. But their calculations regarding the motivation of the actions of the Kremlin are deeply erroneous. In the Russian leadership, they learned how to calculate the moves of the West and prefer not to believe a word. The CIA’s calculations that due to the emerging warming in the dialogue with Washington and the softening of the US position on Ukraine, Moscow does not want to help Asad to take Aleppo, ensuring his victory, is a clear attempt to pass what he wants.
Taking Aleppo with the help of the Russian videoconferencing will put before Saudi Arabia the question: is it not time to go back down in the negotiations, since this will remain for the kingdom the only opportunity to maintain a presence in the political settlement space. For the liberation of Aleppo and Idlib will automatically strike out the KSA and its er-riad group from among the weighty figures at the Geneva talks. Moreover, Turkey and its main ally, Qatar, will concern it no less. And the preservation in such a situation of the tripartite anti-Assad alliance of these countries or even of the Ankara-Doha axis alone without a significant transformation of their relations is not realistic.
For its part, Tehran will seek to implement the scenario of military leveling the influence of the Saudis in Syria. That is why Iran strengthens the corps of its advisers, the Afghan and Iraqi Shiite militias there, and also replenishes the arsenals of the Syrian army before the decisive offensive. To this end, Tehran sponsors the purchase of weapons and ammunition in Belarus. Active negotiations on this topic are underway with the management of Belexport. The main figure on the part of the Syrians is the ambassador of the SAR in Minsk, Bassam Abdul Majid, who was at one time the Minister of the Interior and is considered a trusted man of Assad. 11 of April, he met on this occasion with the Minister of Defense of Belarus A. Ravkov, finally discussing the details of the upcoming supplies.