In recent months, France, in the person of Emmanuel Macron, has been striving for greater participation in the Syrian settlement and for development of a clearer position on this issue. In particular, this was reflected in France’s participation in missile strikes on April 14 and the entry of French troops into the country. In his interview for valdaiclub.com, Konstantin Truevtsev, Senior Researcher at the Institute of Oriental Studies of the Russian Academy of Sciences, discusses the prospects for the country’s participation in the process.
In his article, Alain Gresh examines the position on Syria taken by Emmanuel Macron. As the French government states, the peace process in Astana did not lead to reconciliation. Speaking as a whole, it is true – but Astana did not put such a task. What results did this process bring? First, it is the creation of de-escalation zones, which reduced the intensity of conflict between the Syrian government and the non-terrorist irreconcilable opposition, including Jaysh al-Islam, Free Syrian Army and Ahrar al-Sham. All of them were in those four areas of de-escalation, which were decided in Astana.
What is the situation today? The level of aggression has decreased. It has not disappeared completely, but there was disengagement between non-terrorist radical Islamists and terrorists like ISIL and Al-Nusra. The de-escalation zones were cleared of both terrorists and radical Islamists. Now, if you look at the three de-escalation zones, almost all the opposition and terrorist enclaves have ceased to exist. The vast majority of Syrian territory is under government control, and the opposition is evacuated mainly to those zones that are under the control of the Turkish army and its allies.
Of course, today the question arises: what should we do next? The question of whether there will be a continuation of Astana, has not been decided yet. The problem is when they will be ready for further negotiations. If not soon, then the situation freezes in the present state for a long time, with about 60% of the territory and 90% of the population under government control, and the remaining 35-40% of the territory under the control of other forces. Does this situation give an opportunity for France to participate in the Syrian developments more actively? It all depends on how France will interpret its further participation. So far, this interpretation seems to be unconstructive, because although Macron’s refusal to demand the immediate withdrawal of Bashar Assad is a positive step, he has no definite position. The French president recently decided to send French troops to the territories controlled by the Syrian Democratic Forces. One could ask “why,” too. In Manbij, where the French forces have already been established, they are not expected to confront the Syrian government, but their confrontation with Turkey could intensify. Do the French need this; will it do any good in terms of their participation in the Syrian settlement? Very doubtful.
The motivational part of Gresh’s article reads that the French leadership cannot imagine the Syrian conflict without the participation of “Arabs.” However, this concept looks a bit abstract. What countries are we talking about? Among the major Arab countries, Morocco and Algeria, for example, have never taken part in the Syrian conflict; Jordan and Egypt have refused to join any military operations. Therefore, only Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states remain. One could recall that Saudi Arabia had encouraged Qatar to send its armed forces to Syria, but it refused to do so. Therefore, even the circle of participants from the Persian Gulf countries is narrowing to Saudi Arabia alone – the only country willing to participate.
The only formula for conflict resolution is enhancing the non-violent component. Then again, the question is: what could the presence of the French troops in Syria be needed for? Therefore, I cannot imagine any constructive participation of France in the Syrian settlement, if it maintains its position.