Syrian cease-fire that started on fragile ground - MERVE ŞEBNEM ORUÇ

Syrian cease-fire that started on fragile ground

The year 2017 is commencing with a cease-fire agreement reached as of Dec. 30, 2016, with Turkey and Russia as guarantor. We hope the cease-fire, which is a milestone in terms of the six-year civil war, turns out to be a good start for Syria, a country torn by civil war. However, it is difficult to wait for the cease-fire to reach permanent peace in a short period of time, because there are many question marks concerning Bashar Assad's future, the withdrawal of foreign Shiite and Sunni fighters, where they will go after withdrawal, whether the sides will keep their promises, if not, what sanctions will be imposed and how. Some of these questions may be answered in the Syria negotiations to take place in Astana in January, however, the fragile ground in which every minute is of critical importance may also face various sabotage possibilities.

If we look at what happened on the path leading to the cease-fire, we can better understand how fragile the ground is. As Turkey was making progress in its fight against Daesh in al-Bab, the U.S. announced that it postponed the Raqqa offensive aimed at Daesh to spring. It was clear that the Raqqa offensive, which was constantly kept on the agenda, giving the impression that it was about to start, was simply blown up to push the Euphrates Shield into the background – there was no action despite the frequent mention. As a matter of fact, it had been a long time since the U.S.-led coalition forces – that are supposedly in Syria to fight Daesh – carried out air operations targeting Daesh. News that the Raqqa operation had been postponed caused an increase in the militant and suicide bomber support Daesh directed from Raqqa to al-Bab.

Meanwhile, the Assad regime, which had taken Palmira back from Daesh in March, gave it back to Daesh in December in a period as short as two days. Daesh, which took critical regions such as the T4 military air base east of Homs, also seized a significant amount of heavy artillery and ammunition. There is no doubt that these weapons were taken to al-Bab. It is also obvious what is being done by the PKK's Syrian offshoot Democratic Union Party (PYD) and its armed wing, the People's Protection Units (YPG), backed by the U.S. with the excuse that they are fighting Daesh. They were busy sending the perpetrators of the dual bombing attack in Beşiktaş and the terrorist attack in Kayseri from Rasulayn and Kobani to Turkey, like they did many times before.

While efforts were made to corner Turkey both in al-Bab and within before the cease-fire, the regime side was busy urgently vacating Aleppo with the support it got from Russia and Iran. Hence, Aleppo fell as a scene in another new and atrocious humanitarian drama and Turkey mobilized for the evacuation of civilians. It was common knowledge that Russian authorities and Syrian opposition forces were negotiating for some time in Ankara. In addition to this, Russia, Turkey and Iran sat at the table in Moscow for Syria on Dec. 20.

However, those who do not want any sort of solution in Syria organized an assassination in Ankara on Russian Ambassador Andrey Karlov by the hand of the Gülenist Terror Group (FETÖ). When the ambassador's death failed to prevent the meeting in Moscow, Russia became the target of a series of attacks, which some seemed like accidents. Despite all this, Russia and Turkey's Syria calendar continued to progress. However, the night the cease-fire was set to start, 35 Russian diplomats working in the U.S. were expelled based on cybetattack allegations – in a way that seemed as though it had nothing to do with all this but was connected to it – and the U.S. announced it was going to close both Russian compounds. Barack Obama had previously announced that he was going to apply a series of sanctions against Russia based on the claim that a cyberattack was organized against the Democrat Party and Hillary Clinton's election campaign. It is not possible to consider this as an indigestion displayed just before he leaves, because while President-elect Donald Trump, who made promises to develop good ties with Russia, is giving confused messages, the prominent Republicans of the Senate are saying that they are going to work to increase sanctions. There is benefit in recalling that while bilateral relations between Turkey and Russia had come to the point of freezing with the jet crisis, increased U.S.-Russia contacts concerning Syria were ruined again – and as a matter of fact, it reached a complete halt a couple of months ago – with the resumption and improvement of Turkey-Russia ties.

The U.S.'s exclusion from the cease-fire process, which does not include Daesh, al-Nusra and the YPG, as you know, was the most widely covered aspect in Western media. While some were criticizing the outgoing Obama administration's Syria policy, some were telling new President Trump, who will be taking office in Jan. 20, what to do in relation to restraining Turkey and some were drawing attention to Russia being a super power again.

The “U.S. is supporting terrorism” statement made by President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan the week the cease-fire started in Syria made many people across the ocean mad. There is no doubt that the Republicans who do not mind the Obama administration's support to the PYD, but do not approve of its policy aimed at the Assad regime, are quite disturbed by Russia and Turkey's initiative. What will the Republicans, who criticize Obama's estrangement from Israel and rapprochement with Iran, pushing away the Gulf countries, as much as they criticize his Syria policy, do after the Trump administration takes office? Is holding to account “the red lined crossed by Assad to date” and “bringing democracy” to Syria, which is finally in a state of cease-fire after six years, among the things it will do? These are important questions. For example, will they get close with the Gulf countries in the name of leaving Iran out, and arm the opposition forces like never before and will they try once more, as a result, to kill a few birds with one stone and leave Turkey in a tough position?

While Trump is trying to steer a course between the foreign policies he promised and the U.S. interests imposed by the established order, could the likelihood of the U.S. – which is left out of the game in Syria – attempting to topple Assad, who it never touched until now, be overlooked? What's more is, after all it has done, can we say it is “impossible” for the Obama administration, which has until Jan. 20, to hit a target “by mistake” – like it did many times before – and the risk of this target being the points the Turkish Armed Forces (TSK) are present?

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