Whatever Happens in the Geneva Peace Talks, Assad Wins

Published November 29th, 2017 - 03:12 GMT
The body of a Syrian child is pulled out from the rubble following an airstrike in Eastern Ghouta, Syrian Civil Defense - Rif Dimushq
The body of a Syrian child is pulled out from the rubble following an airstrike in Eastern Ghouta, Syrian Civil Defense - Rif Dimushq

 

  • Another round of peace talks to decide the fate of Syria is underway in Geneva
  • They are doomed to fail thanks to Assad taking away any leverage from his opposition
  • Additionally, parallel diplomatic talks are happening outside of the U.N. 
  • Assad has become the lead arbiter of Syria's future 

 

By Ty Joplin

 

The Syrian government is set to arrive in Geneva today to attend another round of U.N.-sponsored peace talks to bring an end to the Syrian Civil War, now in its seventh year.

All the previous rounds of U.N.-backed talks have failed to generate a peace deal, and have often been seriously hindered by the fundamental difference the regime and its opposition have to the fate of Syria’s President, Bashar Assad. Assad insists he must stay, and the opposition insists he must vacate.

Although this round of negotiations is also doomed to fail, the differences in why this one will marks the shifting landscape of the Syrian Civil War, with Assad solidifying his role as head of the country.

Thanks to help from Iran, Russia and Turkey both militarily and diplomatically, the momentum of the war is shifting in favor of Assad. From a strategic point of view, it makes less sense for Assad to engage in the peace talks with his opposition, which would inevitably call on him to cede parts of his power, than for him to wait out the peace talks as he regains more control over Syria.

On top of that, Assad, Iran, Russia and Turkey have been engaged in parallel diplomatic negotiations in Astana with more planned in Sochi to formulate ways to unify Syria under Assad and finally bring an end to the war. These talks are happening without the U.N. and indeed run counter to the goal of the U.N-backed negotiations, since they are firmly rooted in unseating any opposition footholds in the country.

The Syrian Civil War began in 2011 during the wave of Arab Spring protests that spread throughout the Middle East and North Africa.

Over 450,000 people have died and 12 million more displaced in one of the worst humanitarian crises since World War 2. The United Nations has repeatedly tried to facilitate peace talks between the warring sides.

By 2015, the war looked to be a stalemate, with both Assad and the myriad opposition groups unable to claim any major victory.

Upon the arrival of Russian troops and airpower however, Assad was able to fully capture Aleppo, Syria’s most populous city before the war began. From then on, rebel groups have steadily lost ground.

In other words, “while Russia is now playing peacemaker, it is its military intervention that has really started to create what seems to be an emerging victory for Bashar al Assad,” according to Jane Kinninmont of the U.K.-based Think Tank, Chatham House.

With Iranian militia troops and Hezbollah forces as auxiliary power to Assad’s own soldiers and state-backed militias, Assad now stands much more to gain on the battlefield than in conference rooms in Geneva.

 

Members of the U.N. Security Council meet in Geneva in November, AFP

 

Although Assad’s opposition has appointed a single negotiator to represent them, a first since U.N.-backed talks began, it does little to change the geopolitical realities on the ground that the opposition is fragmented beyond the point of being able to genuinely contest Assad’s power.

Before this round of talks began, Assad, Russia, Iran and Turkey met several times in Astana, Kazakhstan and agreed upon a separate deal within Syria to establish ‘de-escalation zones.’ The supposed ‘de-escalation’ zones that were established look more to have cordoned off Assad’s resistance than do anything to de-escalate the conflict.

The U.N. reportedly welcomed the de-escalation zones in so far as they reduced violence, the Astana agreements gave Iran, Russia and Turkey the power to police enforcement of the deal.

As a result, Assad and Russia’s reportedly deliberate siege on civilians in one area within a ‘de-escalation zone,’ Eastern Ghouta near Damascus, has gone on unfettered because no external body exists to monitor compliance with the Astana agreements.

If Assad and his allies can lay siege to his own people without fear of a forceful U.N. response, it makes little sense for him to begin deferring to the U.N.’s sets of diplomatic rules to negotiate an end to the war.

 

 

Another series of parallel diplomatic talks are scheduled to begin soon as well in Sochi, Russia. The only hold-up is the inclusion of Kurdish representatives, which Turkey has blocked. These talks would aim to establish a ‘Syrian People’s Congress,’ a conglomerate of Syrian interests to negotiate a post-war Syrian landscape.

Like the Astana agreements, these talks are taking place outside of the authority of the U.N.

Vox wrote about last failed round of U.N. peace talks, arguing that “peace talks, even if they fail, will do something that otherwise would never have happened: All the different parties will be in the same bunch of hotel meeting rooms together.”

This has the potential to mitigate the worst of the conflict and help the flow of humanitarian aid: in other words, make the war a “little less horrible.”

This thinking, while hopeful, relies on the illusion because these people are staying in the same hotels and sitting in the same rooms they are somehow connecting and coming to some basic understanding.

Meanwhile, since the last talks failed, humanitarian access is squeezed so tight in some areas of Syria that people are now dying of starvation and malnourishment.

Assad and his allies have supplanted the role of the United Nations have aspired to be, the diplomatic brokers of Syria’s future.


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