Eight years down the road and the Syrian crisis has yet to meet its fate. This crisis which has turned into a conflict and an all-out war between various entities and factions is one which is largely responsible for the changes in the regional order of the Middle East.
During the span of this conflict—there were many nodes to the politics which surrounded it, both on the regional and international level. One of the few things which came out as a result of the quagmire was the various new alignments which were depicted as power alliances and strategy based alignments. Out of these ones stood out; the Iran-Turkey-Russia trifecta which became a pillar of power, strength and direction for not just Syria but the political dynamics surrounding the Middle East as well.
When the three states came together and met for a summit held in Moscow in 2016 for the very first time there was much to talk about. The three powerful sides had decided to work on some common grounds and certain deals including the widening of the ceasefire were decided. It was for the first time that Turkey, which was otherwise supporting the Syrian rebel groups and was anti-Assad regime sat with two other states which were heavily supporting the Regime. This meant a change in the order of things in the regional dynamics once again. And one of the most important things was that in the entire summit there was no US present which was considered to be a state having immense influence, domination and power regarding Syrian Crisis. This paved the way for this new trifecta in the region and in Syria to prove to be a very important and superior stalemate.
Of course, this newly forged alliance did a lot of work to not just attain what was best in their own interests but also damage the opposition as well. In 2017, another summit on Syria was held in Sochi. Pushing out ISIS from Syria had been one of the core agendas in this summit (and it was worked upon quite well). A political, as well as a permanent solution to the crisis, was also called by the three leaders. The humanitarian crisis and the rehabilitation of the Syrians were also brought to light. This summit had again put into question the waning power of the US in Syria. Since then Astana Talks regarding the Syrian Peace Plan was launched by the three-sided where they would meet and hold summits and discuss on a trilateral level—the Syrian situation.
In early 2018—once again was held which focused on certain broad agendas like peace in Syria, the territorial integrity of Syria and its independence were made out to be the most important points. Turkey came out to claim that it has been fighting ISIS alongside YPG which is a Kurdish group, for which Turkey has major insecurities. Alongside all these claims there was a call for making sure that no plans for separating any Syrian territory ought to be made. The Eastern Ghouta hostilities were also pulled into the picture, on which there might have been some disparities between Turkey and Russia but not so much that there was a fallout. Furthermore, Turkey reiterated the Afrin Operation which was carried out by Turkey.
Finally, there was the Tehran Summit which took place in September 2018 when all three state leaders came and sat together to discuss the issue at hand. Again there was the expression of their satisfaction regarding the accomplishments of the Astana format since January 2017. Especially towards the progress made in reducing violence across the Syrian Arab Republic and contributing to peace, security and stability in the country.
There were also talks regarding the upholding of the Syrian sovereignty, independence and upholding of territorial integrity. The three sides rejected all endeavours to create new realities on the ground under the excuse of fighting terrorism and articulated their determination to stand against separatist agendas intended to undermine the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Syria as well as the national security of neighbouring states. Humanitarian woes, peace and ISIS were also discussed.
But where there were acceptances and agreements on many things, what the three sides failed to do was to come to any kind of agreement regarding the Idlib province of Syria. The leaders of Turkey, Iran and Russia on Friday were unsuccessful to agree on a ceasefire which would forestall a Syrian government offensive in the rebel-held Idlib province which the United Nations fears can cause a humanitarian catastrophe involving tens of thousands of civilians.
The main point here was that Erdogan wanted this offensive to be forestalled on grounds of many fatalities and casualties of the Syrian people. While Putin claimed that a ceasefire is going be futile as it is not going to involve Islamist militant groups it deems as terrorists. And Rouhani claimed Syria must regain control over all its territory. To bring clarity to the notion; Idlib is the revolutionaries’ only remaining major stronghold and a government offensive might be the war’s last decisive battle. Soon afterwards Erdogan exclaimed that Turkey will not watch Syrian people die ruthlessly from the sidelines in a tweet.
Now the Summit might have not made as clean of headway as it was seen but it clearly cannot be seen as a total dead-end. The point being; here is where all the states’ own national interests regarding Syria have come out. For Turkey this operation would mean that it might have to cater to more Syrian Refugees and currently, having various economic issues, it might not be the best thing for Turkey. For Russia and Iran—the sooner this war is over, the easier it would be for the two to mark their own prints in Syria. Though there might be a brewing row between Russia and Iran over the influence of Syria as a whole. Furthermore, for Russia and Iran, it is dire that Syria comes out as the absolute winner because it will mean that US policy has failed in Syria and the Middle East.
If this summit was a dead-end then it may open the two states for future tug-of-power in Syria. But it seems that if there was a temporary disagreement on Idlib, Turkey and Russia have managed to evade it and saved the trifecta from facing a serious crisis. They two sides have agreed to create a demilitarised buffer zone in Idlib which would separate government forces and rebel forces. Had this not taken place there were chances that the Astana Talk pattern would have begun to flop.
Furthermore, if disparities like this were not resolved soon—then the trifecta might be broken loose and the three stakeholders, who managed to the out-manoeuvre US in Syria might be coming to in-fighting especially when there are other entities on the loose to exploit any visible gaps between the three states. This goes without saying that all the states have their own interests as well, but these three are the biggest stakeholders having mutually brokered stance and to claim that there is trouble in paradise would have had some far-reaching consequences for Syrian politics. Perhaps this decision might also limit the human catastrophe in Idlib and shown some serious diplomatic manoeuvring between the three states.
DISCLAIMER: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy and position of Regional Rapport.