What has been the outcome of the summit between the leaders of Russia, Turkey and Iran in the Russian city of Sochi? What is the significance of the timing of President Putin’s meeting with Bashar Al-Assad in Sochi on November 21?
Has the path towards a political settlement of the Syrian crisis opened? Will we see Putin in Damascus celebrating the victory of his forces soon?
The final communiqué released after the summit between Russian President Vladimir Putin, Turkish leader Rejjep Teyyep Erdogan and Iranian President Hassan Rouhani calls for the peaceful resolution of the Syrian conflict and makes recommendations for the upcoming Geneva Summit, without abandoning the current Syrian regime of Bashar al-Assad.
Preparations have already begun for the convening of a “Syrian peoples’ congress” in Sochi in early December. Putin announced a few days ago that its military operation in Syria is nearing its end and that the Syrian government is currently in control of over 98 percent of Syrian territories, which suggests it has gained the upper hand in any negotiations with the opposition or with other countries that oppose Al-Assad as president.
Wait and watch game in Syria has reached its final countdown and the players are convinced that any further delay would escalate the crisis.
It seems that Turkish demands for Al-Assad to step down have fallen into abeyance because Ankara seeks the support of Tehran and Moscow for its aim of demilitarizing Syrian Kurds. This seems to be the deal.
The future of Bashar al-Assad is left for the Syrians to decide in the upcoming presidential elections, as Russia and the US finished drafting the constitution by August and some issues pertain to minor details that won’t affect the decision on al-Assad.
During the press conference in Sochi, Putin said that that the presidents of Turkey and Iran played a “special role” in bringing about cessation of hostilities in Syria and the establishment of de-escalation zones.
Putin added that a ‘new stage’ had been reached in the Syrian crisis but achieving a political solution would require compromise on all sides, particularly from the Syrian government. The name of Farouk Al-Shara’a, former vice president of Syria, is being proposed to represent the Syrian regime at the upcoming Sochi Congress, as he is accepted by both the government and the opposition.
On the other hand, observers regard the visit of Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad to Russia – during which he met President Putin – to imply that after the demise of ISIS and the defeat of all armed opposition, the road towards a comprehensive political settlement is now open and regional states will be involved in the final settlement deliberations.
The Syrian president was offered a potential peace initiative drafted by Russia, Iran and Turkey as Moscow has started to scale down its troop levels and military equipment in the war-torn country.
Russian Defense Ministry announced that Russian, Iranian and Turkish chiefs of military staff have agreed upon the mechanisms for increased coordination in Idlib province in order to reduce military tensions and escalation. Al-Assad paid a surprise visit to Sochi, which was disclosed by Moscow only after his return to Syria, was received as president and the statement from the Kremlin proves that Putin had briefed Assad on the deliberations at the tripartite Sochi meeting on 22 November.
Following the meeting with Assad, Putin said: “It is now important to reach a political settlement in Syria, and Assad is ready to work with anyone who wants peace.” This indicates that Putin still supports Assad as president and that he will not accept any alternative for him.
The second proof that the Russian president seeks Assad to be the new president of Syria is when Putin introduced al-Assad to the senior officials of the Russian Defense Ministry and the General Staff of the Russian Armed Forces.
The third indication to this effect is the resignation of Riyad Hijab, head of Syria’s main opposition bloc and the High Negotiations Committee (HNC), just a few days before the kick-off of the Syrian opposition meeting in Riyadh due to pressure of external powers on him against talking about the future of Bashar al-Assad.
The meeting in Sochi, which lasted three hours, came ahead of a summit at the same place between the Presidents of Iran, Russia and Turkey. Iran and Russia have been Assad’s main supporters, while Turkey backs the opposition.
The wait and watch game in politics in the case of Syrian conflict has reached its final countdown and the players, both regional and international, are now convinced that any further delay in achieving a political settlement on this issue would escalate the crisis to neighboring countries including Jordan, Lebanon, Israel and Turkey.
Shehab Al-Makahleh is Director of Geostrategic Media Center, senior media and political analyst in the Middle East, adviser to many international consultancies. He can be reached at: @shehabmakahleh and @Geostrat_ME.