Syrian negotiations have nothing to do with Syria

Friday 26/02/2016

When will the West realise that the Syrian peace negotiations have nothing to do with Syria? In reality, they have much more to do with the issue between Moscow and the West over international sanc­tions imposed on Russia over its role in the Ukraine crisis.

It is surprising that, until now, everything that has emerged from the various rounds of the fruitless Syrian negotiations has failed to refer to the main issue that stands behind the military escalation in the country.

The opposition is scream­ing about the Russian military intervention while international partners are preoccupied with issuing demands, warnings and threats. All the while, nobody is dealing with the crux of the matter.

The regional strategic balance is one narrow strand for Moscow, which is facing an unprecedent­ed economic crisis.

The Russian ruble has lost 70% of its value since the start of the Ukraine crisis. That is just the tip of the iceberg of its economic and financial crises, due to the Western sanctions, the isolation from the global financial system and the collapse of energy prices.

All crises in the region have escalated over the past few years because of Iranian interventions and exploitations. They should have entered a stage of detente with the passage of time, which is only beginning to happen in Iraq after the Iran nuclear deal.

Before the Russian military intervention in Syria, it seemed clear that the international community was going to be more able to impose a solution to the Syrian cri­sis following the nuclear deal with Iran, as Tehran would be fearful of the resumption of sanctions.

But Moscow realised that if the Syrian crisis was resolved, the harsh sanc­tions that have been imposed on the country will stay in place for a very long time.

It looked very unlikely that Russia would wake up one day and decide, out of the blue, to withdraw from the Crimea. In the same manner the West is very unlikely to decide to lift Russian sanctions unless Moscow meets the conditions for this.

Therefore, the Kremlin real­ised that the sanctions looked likely to remain in place, maybe for decades. That is why Russia decided to intervene in Syria and turn the situation on its head to use it as a bargaining chip to have the sanctions lifted.

The course of events confirms that Russia will seek to escalate its offensive in Syria regardless of the positions of the Syrian opposition, the United States, Europe and regional powers.

Even if the Syrian opposition announced today that it was ready to lay down arms and meet all Damascus’s demands, it would not be enough for Mos­cow. Russia will continue to stoke the flames until the West lifts the Ukraine-related eco­nomic sanctions.

There can be no solution to Syria until Washington and Europe realise that they must find a solution to the Russian sanctions. Moscow will remain involved in the Syrian crisis whatever the opposition and others do, until it gets satisfac­tion over the sanctions issue.

With neither side likely to bow to pressure, the fear is that Syria could remain trapped between the two sides in this new Cold War until it turns to ashes.