National Dialogue Congress, Olive Branch Operation and Unpredictable Developments in Syria

The current development of the situation in Syria is marked by two events. The first is the Syrian National Dialogue Congress in Sochi, the second is the Turkish "Olive Branch" military operation against the Syrian Kurds in the Afrin canton.

Is it possible to evaluate both events and are there any interconnections between them? I think that the answer will be positive.

As to the Syrian National Dialogue Congress in Sochi, it can be seen as a serious and far-reaching attempt to convert the military successes of Syrian government and its allies into a political process. As to the military successes that predetermined the possibility to hold the Congress, this means the defeat of ISIS as a systemic, quasi-state phenomenon and a serious victory over the Al-Nusra front at the junction of the Idlib, Hama and Aleppo provinces. These successes significantly narrowed the base of the terrorist forces in Syria and gave rise to serious hopes for the final disengagement of the opposition (including the armed one) from the terrorist forces. The result was the possibility to hold an unprecedentedly wide dialogue between representatives of the government, civil society and various groups of the opposition inside and outside the country. Properly this fact can be regarded as a certain success.

Among the successes of the Congress, of course, is the creation of a commission to draft a new constitution, which includes representatives of various opposition forces. However, the process of elaborating a new fundamental law is difficult and will not be quick. But what has become obvious now is the determination of the overwhelming majority of members of the Congress to put an end to armed confrontation and make efforts to transform the situation into a political process.

Another obvious feature of what happened during the Congress is the division within the ranks of the opposition between those who are interested in the common future of Syria (even if they waged an armed struggle for a different result) and those, whose political ambitions outweighed everything else. The latter were members of the delegation of the National Committee of the Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces, who left Sochi, having entrusted their representation to the delegation of Turkey. But they risk to become marginalized, and the question of the importance of their further representation in the negotiations in Geneva may arise.

The "Olive Branch" military operation is clearly in sharp contrast to the Congress. It is an element of military escalation in the territory of Syria, even of a local nature. Although the beginning of this operation did not undermine the Congress, but it significantly reduced the share of the Kurdish representation, and thereby diminished the importance of the Kurdish issue during this forum.

Meanwhile, the Kurdish issue is becoming more and more acute. And now it is obvious, that it cannot be considered outside the context of the foreign troops presence in Syria.

It happened so that the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), where the Kurds initially constituted an absolute majority, were forced to rely on the support of the US-led coalition because Russia under strong Turkey's pressure was deprived of the possibility to provide them an effective assistance. Now the SDF controls at least a quarter of the country's territory, but in their composition in the provinces of Raqqa and Deir ez-Zor the Kurds no longer prevail, but the Sunni tribes of the Euphrates valley. The presence in their territory of the NATO armed forces is a factor that threatens the territorial integrity of the country.

Another threat of today, unfortunately, is Turkey, which by the way, is still a NATO member. In this context, how to interpret President Recep Erdogan’ statements that the borders of Turkey are not final and can be revised? And where is the guarantee that during the ongoing consultations between Turkey and the United States these two NATO countries will not agree on the occupation of the entire territory of northern and northeastern Syria?

In this regard, the issue of direct negotiations between the government of Syria and the Kurds is becoming one of the central issues. Properly a consensus between them would be the main guarantee against unpredictable developments.

Views expressed are of individual Members and Contributors, rather than the Club's, unless explicitly stated otherwise.