On the 15th and 16th of March, the Russian capital, Moscow, will be hosting a crucial meeting on the future of Syria. The meeting will be attended by the deputy foreign ministers of Turkey, Russia, Iran, and the Syrian regime of President Bashar al-Assad. The New York Center for Foreign Policy Affairs takes a close look at the meeting, its objectives, and the implications it could have for the Syrian people and the wider region.
The meeting is a continuation of a series of talks known as the Astana process, initiated by Russia, Turkey, and Iran in 2017, as a parallel process to the UN-led Geneva talks. The aim of the Astana process is to find a political solution to the Syrian crisis through negotiations among the warring parties, including the Syrian regime, the opposition groups, and the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF).
The previous round of Astana talks was held in Nur-Sultan, Kazakhstan, in July 2021, during which the participants agreed to create a working group to draft a new Syrian constitution. The working group was tasked with including representatives from the Syrian regime, the opposition groups, and civil society. However, the working group failed to make any significant progress due to the lack of agreement on key issues such as the role of President Assad in the future of Syria and the distribution of powers between the central government and the regions.
The upcoming meeting in Moscow is significant as it is the first round of talks after the recent developments in Syria, including the takeover of the Idlib province by the Syrian regime and its allies, and the continued military operations by the Turkish army against the Kurdish-led SDF in northeastern Syria.
One of the main issues on the agenda of the Moscow talks is expected to be the situation in Idlib, the last major stronghold of the opposition groups in Syria. In recent months, the Syrian regime, with the support of Russia, has intensified its military operations in Idlib, leading to the displacement of hundreds of thousands of civilians and the death of dozens of people, including children.
Turkey, which supports some of the opposition groups in Idlib, has been in a state of tension with Russia over the situation in Idlib, as it fears that the military operations could spill over into its territory and lead to a new wave of refugees. Turkey has also been accused of supporting extremist groups in Idlib, which has been a source of concern for the other Astana participants, particularly Russia and Iran.
The Moscow talks are expected to address these concerns and find a way to de-escalate the situation in Idlib. However, finding a political solution to the Syrian crisis, which has been ongoing for more than a decade, requires more than just addressing the situation in Idlib.
Another issue that is expected to be on the agenda of the Moscow talks is the situation in northeastern Syria, where the Kurdish-led SDF controls a significant part of the territory. The SDF has been a key partner of the US-led coalition against ISIS, and its fighters have played a crucial role in the defeat of the extremist group in Syria.
However, the SDF’s links to the Kurdish Workers’ Party (PKK), a designated terrorist group by Turkey and several other countries, has been a source of tension between Turkey and the US, and the other Astana participants. Turkey sees the SDF as a threat to its national security and has carried out several military operations against the group in northeastern Syria.
The Moscow talks are expected to address the situation in northeastern Syria and find a way to ensure stability in the area. However, finding a lasting solution to the Kurdish issue in Syria requires a comprehensive political solution that takes into account the aspirations of the Kurdish people and their legitimate rights.
The Syrian regime’s position in the Moscow talks is also significant as it comes amidst ongoing efforts to normalize relations between the Syrian government and regional and international powers. The Assad regime has been accused of war crimes and atrocities against its own people, and its legitimacy as a government has been challenged by many. However, the Syrian government’s position as a major player in the country’s politics cannot be ignored, and any effort to resolve the Syrian conflict must involve the government in some capacity.
The involvement of Turkey, Russia, and Iran in the Moscow talks highlights the complex regional dynamics of the Syrian conflict. Turkey has been involved in the conflict since 2011 and has supported opposition groups against the Assad regime. However, Turkey’s main concern is the presence of Kurdish forces in northeastern Syria, which it sees as a threat to its national security. Russia and Iran, on the other hand, have been key allies of the Assad regime and have provided military and economic support to the government throughout the conflict.
The presence of all these actors in the Moscow talks creates both opportunities and challenges for finding a lasting solution to the Syrian conflict. On one hand, the involvement of Turkey, Russia, and Iran provides an opportunity to address regional concerns and find a political solution that is acceptable to all parties. On the other hand, the differing agendas and interests of these actors may complicate efforts to reach a comprehensive agreement.
One of the key issues that is likely to be discussed at the Moscow talks is the situation in northeastern Syria, where Kurdish forces have established a de facto autonomous region. Turkey has repeatedly called for the removal of Kurdish forces from the area and has launched several military operations against them. However, the Kurdish-led SDF has played a crucial role in the fight against ISIS and has been supported by the US-led coalition. Finding a way to address Turkey’s security concerns while also recognizing the legitimate aspirations of the Kurdish people in Syria will be a major challenge for the Moscow talks.
Another key issue that is likely to be discussed at the Moscow talks is the situation in Idlib, where the Syrian regime has intensified its military operations, leading to the displacement of civilians and concerns about a humanitarian crisis. The Astana participants will need to find a way to de-escalate the situation and address Turkey’s concerns about the potential for spillover into its territory.
In addition to these immediate concerns, the Moscow talks will also need to address the broader issue of finding a political solution to the Syrian crisis. This will require addressing the concerns of all parties, including the Syrian regime, opposition groups, and the Kurdish-led SDF, and finding a way to ensure stability and security in the country. It will also require addressing the issue of war crimes and atrocities committed by all parties, including the Syrian government.
Overall, the Moscow talks represent an important opportunity to make progress towards finding a political solution to the Syrian crisis. However, given the complexity of the regional dynamics and the differing agendas of the Astana participants, finding a comprehensive agreement will be a significant challenge.
As the US was one of the main actors in the Syrian conflict, its interests in the future of Syria cannot be overlooked. However, the US is not a participant in the Astana process and has been pursuing its own agenda in Syria, which includes supporting the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) in the fight against ISIS and seeking a political solution to the Syrian conflict through the UN-led Geneva talks.
The US can benefit from the Moscow talks if they result in a de-escalation of the conflict and a reduction in violence, which would help stabilize the situation in Syria and create a conducive environment for the UN-led political process. The US can also benefit if the talks lead to a greater understanding among the regional actors and reduce the risk of a wider conflict.
Moreover, the US has a vested interest in ensuring that the Kurdish forces in northeastern Syria are not marginalized or harmed by any potential agreement. The US has provided significant military support to the SDF, which played a key role in the defeat of ISIS in Syria, and has invested significant political capital in the Kurdish issue. Therefore, any agreement that undermines the Kurdish position in Syria could be viewed as a setback for US interests.
Finally, the US has an interest in addressing the humanitarian crisis in Syria, which has displaced millions of people and caused widespread suffering. If the Moscow talks lead to a reduction in violence and a greater level of cooperation among the regional actors, this could create an opportunity for the US to increase its humanitarian aid to the Syrian people and help alleviate their suffering.