The fate of Syria will be partly decided in Kazakhstan. Kazakhstan is a former Soviet republic and still under the influence of Moscow as a symbol of a world that is changing. It is indeed in Astana, the capital build from scratch in the middle of the steppe by the authoritarian President Nursultan Nazarbayev, that the negotiations were open today, January 23, under the sponsorship of Russia, Turkey and, Iran, the unprecedented negotiations between the Damascus regime and the Armed Syrian Opposition.
Relentlessly hammered and with disdain for months, the expression "supposedly moderate opposition" has disappeared from the Russian diplomatic parlance on Syria. This shift is not just semantic. Since the reconquest by the regime of the rebels’ districts of eastern Aleppo, the Kremlin still seems determined to transform these military successes, which remain fragile, into diplomatic victory. And for this, the presence of the Syrian opposition and its armed wing is necessary.
The sponsors of these discussions are the countries involved in the battlefield, supporters of the regime, such as Russia or Iran, or the opposition, such as Turkey. "The format of the" troika "to date has demonstrated its relevance”, said the Chief Russian Diplomat during his presentation in December 20, 2016 in Moscow, noting that these countries have "a real impact on the ground ". It is the Kremlin's key idea to arrive at a lasting cease-fire, a conditional aspect for the resolution of the conflict. After Astana, the negotiation should continue in Geneva under the leadership of the United Nations, in February 8, 2017.
Other major players such as the United States, the European Union, and Saudi Arabia were not invited. However, the United States could be present in Geneva and this should be a sign of the Kremlin vis-à-vis the new administration of Donald Trump. If Trump does send an envoy to Geneva next month, it would be the first official contact in which the Americans and the Russians can discuss in a more effective way to fight against terrorism in Syria. The presence of Turkey is seen as the rapprochement between Moscow and Ankara and represents an opportunity for Turkey and Iran to confirm their role of new regional powers.
The purposes of the Astana’s negotiations include the consolidation and the establishment of a long lasting cease-fire signed last year after a Russian-Turkish agreement signed by nine rebel organizations. Another purpose is related to the full participation of fighters on the ground and, finally, the agreement on the drafting of a constitution and the process of a referendum and elections.
The Russians have agreed to place the United Nations at the center of the game and change the draft resolution they had initially submitted on December 31, 2016 to the Security Council. The final text of the 2336 resolution on Syria was amended by France, the UK, and the U.S. It sets out a detailed roadmap of the crisis with the establishment of a ceasefire and the opening of negotiations under the aegis of the United Nations for a political transition, new constitution and general elections.
There are still many divergences in terms of the fate of Bashar Al-Assad. While the United States, the Europeans, the Syrian opposition and, the Arab countries want Assad to leave either immediately or at the end of the transitional period, Russia in contrast is doing whatever it will take as long as there is no other alternative to ensure the survival of the current Syrian regime. And the Iranians are even more uncompromising in their support for the dictator. Hopefully, the parties in Astana will agree on sustainable solutions by tomorrow, January 24, 2017. If not, let’s pray that it will happen on the shores of Lake Geneva in order to end the suffering of the Syrian people.