High profile discussions between heads of state from Russia, Syria, the US, Israel, Saudi Arabia and Egypt have raised the question of whether the violent conflict in Syria could finally be coming to an end.
On Tuesday, Russian President Vladimir Putin hosted Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in Moscow for high level discussions. Following the meeting, Putin spoke with US President Donald Trump over the phone for nearly an hour and a half.
“We’re talking about peace in Syria, very important,” Trump said during an impromptu press conference at the White House Tuesday in regards to his talk with Putin.
“The end game is upon us,” Peter Ford, former UK ambassador to Syria, told Sputnik Radio’s Loud & Clear program. “I think Putin is conducting like a maestro, bringing in the players on cue.”.
Still, Ford said the Syria-Russia bilateral talks likely focused on improving communication, as Ford doesn’t see any “fundamental differences” in Damascus’ and Moscow’s positions regarding the end of the conflict.
Ford predicts that the Astana process led by Russia, Turkey and Iran to foster peace talks between the Syrian government and Syrian opposition will lead to a new constitution in which the rebels are given some “face-saving” concessions, such as ministerial positions, but that ultimately since the government is poised to win on the battlefield, the opposition won’t have much leverage. The new “blueprint is going to look much like the blueprint of the past,” Ford said.
Putin spoke with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu as well, Sputnik reported. The leaders talked about avenues for “further expansion of mutually beneficial cooperation in various areas, including contacts between security services,” the Kremlin’s press office said.
Further, “a substantive exchange of views was held on the prospects for the development of the situation in the Middle East region, primarily in the context of the final stage of the fight against international terrorism in Syria,” the press service added.
Putin’s busy day with foreign leaders entailed informing Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi about “Russian assessments of the latest developments in the situation in Syria” about how to eliminate remaining terrorist elements, the Kremlin’s press office said. Similar discussions were held between Putin and Saudi Arabia’s King Salman as well, the Kremlin press service added.
Riyadh has long pushed for Assad’s removal; however, if Ford is right, it does not appear any longer that that will be the outcome.
“How interesting is it that what we’re talking about here is a post-war, post-violence government, negotiations for a real government in Syria — something that’s going to include the opposition, something that’s going to come about as a result of multi-party talks. It’s going to be Syrian in nature, and yet it’s not even really covered in the US media,” said Loud & Clear host John Kiriakou, a Middle East analyst who spent 14 years as a CIA officer.
One possibility is that the US media has dropped the familiar trope that “Assad must go,” and so by just ignoring potential solutions in Syria, US outlets can avoid owning up to the mistaken prediction that Assad needed to be removed for a political solution to be achieved.
Speaking from Moscow, Mark Sleboda, international security and affairs analyst, was far more skeptical about the ongoing war. Sleboda told Loud & Clear the picture painted by Ford was excessively “triumphalist.”
“There is still probably a lot of conflict in Syria to go on. There’s no question there will be guerilla-terrorist conflict for a decade-plus to come. There are still territories of Syria that are still controlled by the Islamic State [Daesh]. All of Idlib province is still controlled literally by al-Qaeda, going under its latest rebranding HTS, Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham,” Sleboda said.
And then there’s Ahrar al-Sham, an al-Qaeda splinter group, which controls territory adjacent to Idlib in north-central Syria and is supported by Turkey. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has “no intention of going anywhere anytime soon” he said, concluding, the “conflict was far from over.”
“We all hope a political settlement can be reached between US proxies that are still occupying large swaths of east Syria and the Syrian government” he said, but “what the Trump administration’s policy is… is as unclear as what Obama’s policy was for the last six years.”