Russia's involvement in Syrian affairs has shifted the balance of power in the region and helped stabilize the situation. The Syrian ceasefire, brokered by the US and Russia, still holds. However, the so-called "moderate" rebels pose a challenge to the Russo-American deal. Despite US President Obama having predicted last October that Russia's involvement in Syria would lead to a quagmire, Moscow's role in shaping the Syrian ceasefire indicates that Obama's gloomy forecast did not come true. Although some experts suggested that Russia has aligned itself with the so-called "Shia Axis," Moscow has established working relationships with major Sunni powers in the region, including Turkey and Saudi Arabia. While Russia and Turkey are bolstering their economic ties after a period of chill in relations, Moscow and Riyadh are negotiating a crude output freeze agreement aimed at stabilizing oil markets. We asked Vladimir Evseev, Head of Caucasus Department of the CIS Institute and Director of the Center for Public Policy Research in Academic Secretary of the Coordinating Council of the Russian Academy of Sciences (RAS) on forecasting, about recent developments in the Syrian war and what future he expects for the Crisis. This interview has been edited for clarity and length.
In our past conversation, you were hopeful the all-parties peace negotiation on Syria to reach a conclusion. Do current developments in the Syrian Conflict suggest any progress of political negotiation?
“During the past six months, the situation in Syria has considerably changed. Peace talks in Syria can greatly come to a favorable end through the tripartite cooperation of Russia, Iran, and Turkey. The faster this cooperation triangle is formed, the sooner we can observe conditions getting improved.
“Until the new president takes office in January, the US will not be doing any agreement. Qatar has also suspended its support for terrorist groups like the ISIS and this group is currently not active enough. Saudi Arabia depends heavily on Turkey, because all supports for rebels are conducted through Turkey. Jordan is also dependent on the US but will not oppose the formation of a cooperation triangle attended by Russia, Iran, and Turkey.
“Israel has its own interests but cannot have an impact on a global level or prevent us from solving the problem.
“Therefore, the formation of this cooperation triangle is of special importance and other players in the political arena play a negligible role in this regard. It should be noted that we could not comment on the matter six months ago because of strained relations with Turkey. However, improving relations with Turkey is now very important, because the formation of above-mentioned cooperation triangle would not be possible otherwise.”
What is your assessment of the US role in the Syria war? Are they serious in fight against terrorism? If they are, what obstacles are in the way of more US-Russia cooperation?
“Russia is very clearly aware of the real situation prevailing in Syria. In addition, no one can much count on the US. However, Russia does not want the US to engage in this issue and that’s why Russia calls for negotiation with them.
“Additionally, negotiations between Russia and Turkey do not mean that Russia completely trusts in Turkey, but it means that these problems cannot be solved without the involvement of Turkey.
“Russia's willingness to negotiate with the US is aimed at restricting the interferences of Washington. No serious talk has been made so far in this regard. However, when Russia and the US are the joint promoters of the peace process in Syria talks, this provides an appropriate structure that is necessary to legitimize the results. Part of what is reflected in the media is a hallucination that Americans and Europeans have started to advertise themselves, something which is not much important to Russia.”
Do we expect any change in the post-Obama US strategy towards the Syrian conflict?
“What is obvious is that the peace negotiations to be continued, however with no fruition. The future is determined in the battlefield and the Syrian army, with the help of Iran and Russia, successfully make advancement in the field. So, the peace process is futile.
“The new US administration will present its strategy towards the Crisis that I think will different with that of the Obama administration. The new strategy determines the balance of power that totally differs with its predecessor. It would be worse for the US and hardly do I think it works for us.”
After President Erdogan apology and improving bilateral relations with Russia, it seems Ankara changes its policy in the Syria. To what extent such different approach by Ankara could translate into tripartite security plans among Iran, Russia and Turkey?
“The tripartite cooperation of Iran, Russia, and Turkey is of great importance to Syria. The process of improving relations between Russia and Turkey has continued and security cooperation between defense ministries or higher-level agencies has developed.
“It is noteworthy that the main concern of Turkey is not Bashar al-Assad, but it is the Kurds, the issue that Iran and Turkey should jointly focus on. The improving relations between Iran and Turkey provide grounds for development of close cooperation on issues such as Kurdish separatism, fighting against terrorism, and combating drug trafficking.”
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