Russia, regional powers determining Syria’s future
London - A deal brokered by Russia and Turkey that entails the Syrian government allowing civilians and rebels safe passage from eastern Aleppo was implemented despite setbacks but it also poses questions about the future of Syria.
Ankara sought mediation by Moscow to influence the Syrian regime to halt the siege and bombardment of the rebel-held part of Aleppo, where a humanitarian catastrophe was worsening.
The evacuation process faced delays reportedly by the Iranian-backed Lebanese Hezbollah militants who are fighting on the side of Syrian President Bashar Assad. The delays were thought to be orchestrated by Iran to impose a parallel evacuation of Shia residents from the rebel-besieged villages of Fuaa and Kafraya in north-western Syria.
“It is clear that foreign Shia militia ground forces have been acting on their own accord, at odds with the deal brokered between Russia and Turkey,” Lara Nelson, an independent consultant to the Syrian opposition, wrote in an op-ed in TRTworld.com, the website of Turkish state broadcaster.
The December 19th assassination of Russia’s ambassador to Turkey by a Turkish police officer appears to have weakened Ankara’s negotiating position at the meeting on Syria attended by the foreign ministers of Turkey, Russia and Iran in Moscow a day after the shooting.
“They met despite the killing, issuing a joint statement, which largely called for a political settlement of the conflict between the Syrian government and opposition and identified some Sunni insurgents as terrorists, as Russia and Iran wanted,” wrote Borzou Daragahi on BuzzFeed.com.
“But the statement failed to identify Iranian-backed Shia militias as terrorists, as Turkey had wanted,” he added.
Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu had sought to include Hezbollah in the same list as the Islamic State and the Jabhat Fateh al-Sham but Russia and Iran did not agree.
The United States, which had been involved in previous diplomatic efforts on Syria, was conspicuously absent from the meeting and had little involvement in the Aleppo evacuation agreement but Washington denied being sidelined.
“The secretary [of State John Kerry] doesn’t see this as a snub at all. He sees it as another multilateral effort to try to get a lasting peace in Syria and he welcomes any progress towards that,” US State Department spokesman John Kirby said.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said the format of troika meeting is “the most efficient one” to overcome the “stagnation” in the Syrian peace process.
Russian Ambassador to the United Nations Vitaly Churkin invited Saudi Arabia to join the efforts by Russia, Iran and Turkey on Syria.
Saudi Minister of Foreign Affairs Adel al-Jubeir called on the international community to pressure Assad to reach a political solution in Syria.
“The Syrian regime is the one that refused to enter into any serious negotiations, continued the killing of (its) own people and brought terrorist organisations and sectarian militias into Syria, including the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps,” Jubeir said, during a December 20th emergency meeting on Syria by the Arab League in Cairo.