Finally, Syria has returned to the Syrians. A flash back to late 2016 shows the great achievement Russia has done in Syria. On December 5th, Russia's Defense Ministry declared Syria "100% Free of ISIS". It is really a miracle no one even imagined a year before. This is the harvest of huge Russian efforts over more than two years since September 2015 when the Russian air strikes began in Syria against terrorists.
Russia not only saved Syria from chaos and terrorism, but the entire Middle East and the world. Defeating ISIS has been launched from Syria with the Russian military operation. Over the last two years, Russia’s Aerospace Forces have carried out more than 92,000 air strikes in Syria. They managed to destroy thousands of terrorists' command centers, training camps and other sites, as well as eliminate about 54,000 terrorists, including Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, ISIS founder, and a large number of ISIS senior leaders. Those include hundreds of Chechens, like Abu Omar al-Checheni, Alaeddin al-Checheni, Salah al-Din al-Checheni and other leaders who represented a serious threat to Russian national security.
This should be complemented with the peace process in Syria. The Astana track, initiated by Russia in January 2017, has been a vital step toward restoring peace and stability in Syria. For the first time, representatives of what so called "Syrian armed opposition" took part in direct negotiations with the Syrian government. That was another great achievement. Over seven rounds of difficult negotiations in Astana, Russia, in cooperation with other guarantors, Iran and Turkey, managed to move Syria from a state of war to stability through the de-escalation areas and the efforts of the National Reconciliation Center in Hmeymim.
For the first time the Syrian opposition combined a united delegation to Geneva talks. That was an inconceivable achievement in the light of the sharp contradictions among different opposition factions. It was the Russian initiative to gather the three opposition platforms, Moscow, Riyadh and Cairo, in one delegation as an important and necessary step to achieve the peaceful settlement in Syria.
Still, there is a need for Russian support to maintain those unprecedented achievements. The war against terrorism is not over yet as ISIS has changed its tactics and turned to guerrilla warfare and spreads terrorist cells and "lone wolf" actions all over the world.
The forthcoming Congress of the peoples of Syria in Sochi along with Geneva talks would define the general features of the new Syrian Constitution and the democratic secular Syrian state, the timetable for the parliamentary and presidential elections. In this context, federalism and the Lebanese model are both not acceptable for Syria as they would cause divisions and fuel sectarian conflicts. It is still important to think about the Kurds within Syria. The Syrian opposition has an opportunity to change and should exploit this opportunity, otherwise it will be bypassed and ignored, especially since they have no longer no power on the ground and Bashar Assad remains the legitimate authority.
One important issue that needs to be considered is the future of the 2000 US illegal troops in Syria. On December 5th, the US Department of Defense announced its decision to maintain a military presence in Syria under the pretext of "preventing the return of terrorist groups to Syria." Nevertheless the ISIS terrorists are actually concentrating in the areas unde the US control! Many concerns are bout the Turkish troops, which the Syrian government considers an occupants. The Israeli air strikes on Syria represent another serious challenge.
There are still major tasks that cannot be fulfilled without Russia and the Arab countries had to support Moscow's efforts in such critical moment to move altogether toward peace and stability.