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Syria: What is going to happen next?

17.01.2016
BY ALEXANDER SOTNICHENKO, 

Later 2015, the world community has finally got down to resolving the Syrian crisis or, rather feigns that it is really interested in ceasing the war. A congress of Syrian opposition was held later December in Saudi Arabia, following which a Supreme Negotiation Committee was set up (SNC). The SNC was headed by a former Prime Minister, Riyad Hijab who fled from Damascus in 2012, to include 34 representatives of various groupings, terrorist included.

On December 18, 2015, a resolution 2254 was adopted, under which SNC-aegis talks will be held with the authorities to result in forming a transition government within six months. The new government will adopt a new constitution of the republic, following which general elections are to be held in Syria not later than 18 months (i.e. until May 2017).

Everything looks utterly positive according to the UN Security Council resolution. However, are the parties to the conflict ready to fulfil this plan, and what scenarios could long-suffering Syria face in 2016?

As is known, from the very outset the head of SNC, R.Hijab has declined from negotiating with SAR authorities (his direct duty!) on unilateral ceasefire by the Syrian army and bombardments by Russian air forces. Also, the opposition demands from Bashar al-Assad to decline from involvement in the caretaker government and further participation in the political life. Of course, official Damascus cannot agree with this demand. That’s why execution of the UN Security Committee resolution and prospects of conflict in 2016 are strongly dependent upon military situation in the country.

First scenario

In case of successful offensive of the SAR army in the first half of 2016 along strategic directions (Damascus, Aleppo, Daraa), blocking insurgents with supplies in the north of the country by Turkey and Jordan, prejudicing the ISIL infrastructure, the Assad’s regime gains initiative and begins to dictate terms of the opposition.

If the Hijab-led SNC declines from talks with official Damascus, the Syrian leadership will set up its own “puppet opposition” prepared to negotiate with the Assad’s government, and non-affiliated with the pro-Saud SNC. These forces will be supplemented with Kurds from the Democratic Union Party, as well as the internal Syrian opposition in the person of ex-communist Kadri Jamil. Thus, a new constitution of Syria may be worked up without the SNC to formally guarantee rights of ethnic-confessional groups, democratic freedoms, as well as the federalization of the country. Note that elections are to be held on the date as set forth in the UN Security Council resolution, i.e. in 2017.

In considering that no list of terrorist organizations can be drawn up under this circumstance, it is the responsibility of Syrian authorities to decide on forces being admitted to the elections and those not. Thus, even despite the conduct of elections in camps of compact residence of refugees, pro-Assad forces are sure to win while the opposition remains to be “puppet one”. At any rate, Assad remains in power bur reforms are perfunctory. Also, Russia and Iran’s influence is to enhance, and the Syrian economy will possibly restore provided active investments are made in the Syrian economy, however, sponsors of the opposition are unlikely to recognize the legitimacy of the elections and adopt Syria as fait accompli.

To avoid developments of this sort, the West may pressure the opposition and make it compromise with the Assad regime till May 2016. In this case, the constitution of the country may be drafted, in addition to the government, jointly with SNC representatives. To prevent Assad and allied forces’ ultimate victory at the elections-2017, the USA and Turkey would have to fight against the ISIL in the east of the country and create there a springboard to ensure loyalty of Sunni population and even encourage its resettlement from regions under the governmental control.

In case of success of the talks between official Damascus and the opposition in the person of SNC, as well as establishment of the agreed date of elections-2017, the West and its allies are likely to do their utmost for ensuring their influence upon the Syrian population through the use of up-to-date information technologies, largely satellite television and Internet. The Syrian leadership is lagging far behind its opponents in applying technologies mentioned above. For this reason, results of the elections seem to be hardly predictable. However, when adjusted for the fact that today the government forces are controlling 65% of Syrian population, the opposition is unlikely to vote its presidential nominee through and win majority in the Parliament even despite active involvement of refugees in the election process.

Second scenario

If the Syrian army turns out to be unprepared for a radical breakthrough in the war, and the situation remains similar to the one in 2015/2016, then the second scenario is likely to come true. Of course, stopping an attack by the Syrian Arab Republic (SAR) army would give R. Hijab  grounds to decline from negotiating with the Syrian government and insist on Bashar al-Assad’s resignation.

At the same time, opposition-led groups also will not be able to cope with the Syrian army and its allies’ opposition, so the frontline situation with be stabilized, and the country will continue to tend to a political ethnic-confessional demarcation and, de-facto, to a breakdown. Regions to be broken down have already been determined: the west stretching from Damascus to Latakia will remain under the control of B. Assad and his allies from Russia and Iran; in the north, there will be created Kurdistan separated by the Azaz corridor; Idlib will remain under the rule of Sunnis led by Jebhat an-Nusr and allied organizations; and the east will remain controlled by the ISIL.

Probably, in an effort to avoid the de-facto establishment of a Kurdish state, the Turks will bring their troops and create ‘a security zone’ and it-related series of problems, for having taken responsibility for 1.5 million of hostile, armed Kurdish population. War actions, as such, will not be stopped; however, they will become as low intense as that at the borders of the Donetsk and Luhansk ‘people’s republics’ and in Kyiv-controlled Ukraine’s territories.

Third scenario

The third scenario assumes that the Syrian opposition will implement its plans to defeat the SAR troops. At present, this plan seems to be unlikely due to the active participation of the Russian airforce; however, the situation in Syria may change because of outside factors. It is known that stability in official Damascus-controlled regions is maintained to a significant extent due to the existing social programs allowing an absolute majority of population to make ends meet. Implementation of these programs fully depends on Iranian money’s injections and Iranian production’ export to Syria. Iran’s involvement in a direct conflict with the Gulf states, primarily, Saudi Arabia may negatively affect Tehran’s economic backing to the Syrian regime.

The participation of Russian Air Force in the Syrian conflict may also be reduced if there are unforeseen losses among the Russian military and technical means because of unexpected broad use of mobile missile systems by the armed opposition, a successful shooting of airbase Hmeymim, or staging bloody acts of terror in Russia. This may cause Russian population’s negative attitude to the Syria campaign, a decrease in the intensity of Russian air force actions, or even withdrawal, full or partial, of Russian military contingent from Syria. Of course, this would deprive the SAR army and official Damascus of the last hope for survival.

In this case, the advancement of Saudi Arabia and Turkey-sponsored opposition detachments can be stopped only at the border of Alawites-populated provinces Latakia and Tartus where highly motivated territorial detachments have been operational. The rest regions of Syria would face the bloody Libyan scenario, under which everyone spotted in cooperation with the B. Assad regime, as well as all non-Sunnis will share the destiny of Qaddafi and his associates. Under the circumstance, Syria will share the destiny of Libya and Yemen, i.e. total disintegration, non-stop civil war, and destruction of a common state as such.