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SYRIA: Approaching the Finishing Line, Geopolitical ‘Jockeying for Position’ Intensifies

damascus city
Overlooking Damascus.

Andrew Korybko
21st Century Wire

The War of Terror on Syria is, seemingly, approaching a clear and visible end, though like everything with the conflict so far, it doesn’t look pretty. Far from the ideal scenario of the Syrian Arab Army liberating every square inch of their civilization-state, an internal partition looks more likely than it ever has before, though it’s still NOT inevitable.

The insertion of hundreds of conventional American troops (Marines) into the battlespace has severely complicated efforts to bring the PYD-YPG ethno-supremacist gang to heel in any post-Daesh scenario, and it’s clear that Washington and Tel Aviv are working hard to see to it that their proxies are “rewarded” for their “anti-terrorist” victories, especially in the event they that successfully defeat the terrorists in Raqqa.

It’s “politically inconvenient” to admit, but what legally amounts to the American invasion of Syria wouldn’t have been possible had it not been for an implicit agreement with Russia, most likely codified during the early-March Antalya meeting between the Russian, American, and Turkish Chiefs of Staff. The same can be said for Turkey’s conventional military involvement in northern Syria through “Operation Euphrates Shield”. It’s unclear whether Moscow’s tacit approval of either of these two milestones was coordinated with Damascus, but listening to the Syrian government’s rhetoric about how “all uninvited foreign troops are invaders”, the only reasonable conclusion is that there may have been a breakdown in communication.

All that’s beside the point in this particular context, however, since the purpose of this analysis is to discuss what’s presently happening in Syria and how all of the events are converging around a clear end game in mind. The Astana and Geneva Conferences are symbolically important and complement one another, but real political progress won’t be made until Daesh is defeated, after which a clearer picture will emerge of the specific on-the-ground leverage that each of the warring parties has over the other. “Lines of Control” will probably sprout up all across the country in the immediate aftermath and begin setting the stage for what might inevitably turn out to be the de-jure political redivision of the state, whether through an internal partition such as “(con)federalism” or an international one which allows for Kurdish “independence’.

The “Takfiri Tet Offensive” And Kurdish Coordination

Battlefield Manipulation:

The so-called “moderate opposition rebels” have been engaged in a vicious north-south counteroffensive all across the existing “Line of Control” over the past couple of weeks, even operating behind liberated lines in carrying out devastating suicide attacks. The purpose of this “Takfiri Tet Offensive” isn’t just to derail the ongoing international negotiations, but to turn Damascus and other government-controlled hubs into a repeat of mid-2000s Baghdad. The worsening security situations along the “Line of Control” and inside of the liberated territory are meant to impede the progress that the Syrian Arab Army (SAA) would have otherwise planned to make in advancing towards Raqqa and Deir ez Zor.

Simultaneously with the “Takfiri Tet Offensive”, the Kurdish-controlled “Syrian Democratic Forces” (SDF) made a daring American-assisted advance across the Euphrates in commencing the Battle of Tabqa, which is significant for openly defying Turkey’s previous threats that Ankara would act to prevent the Kurds from moving beyond the river. They were able to pull off this move because the SAA is blocking the Turks and their “Free Syrian Army” (FSA) proxies in the north near the Aleppo-Al Bab-Manbij triangle, while this same patriotic fighting force was prevented from making their own moves on the Tabqa Dam because they were held back in dealing with the “Takfiri Tet Offensive” and related security risks.

A specious argument could be made that the Kurds and Takfiris coordinated their moves directly with one another, though what’s more likely to have happened is that it was their shared American patron which organized these two mutually antagonistic groups’ offensives. This is a classic case of “the left hand not knowing what the right hand is doing”, or to put it more plainly, neither American ally was aware at the time of how their moves would be exploited to help their ideological rivals and ultimately serve the US’ strategic interests (which each of them identify as largely overlapping with their own).

Hama
“Raising the Syrian flag after the heroic Syrian Army recaptured Maarzaf in northern countryside of Hama.” (Photo: Facebook)

The Race for Raqqa

Now that the Kurdish YPG gang (the main component of the SDF) breached the Euphrates and for all intents and purposes preemptively blocked the SAA from continuing along the river in the Race for Raqqa, it will probably seek to complete the encirclement of Daesh’s ‘capital’ by cutting off it off from the south. Considering that the YPG-SDF are protected from Russian-Syrian strikes by the embedded US conventional troops which serve as an immediate escalation tripwire, it’s becoming increasingly doubtful that the SAA will be able to dislodge these armed groups if they manage to surround Raqqa. In practice, this might lead to the SAA recognizing that this symbolic city’s liberation will not realistically come at its hands, which would have profound post-war political implications.

Before starting to describe them, it’s timely to also ponder whether the YPG-SDF would stop at southern Raqqa on the “Damascus side” of the Euphrates, or if they’d carry their momentum onwards towards the east in making a move on Deir ez Zor. From their standpoint, it would be best for them to beat the SAA to this city as well, though it might not be possible in the near future owing to the military-logistical commitments related to the Battle of Raqqa. In that case, if the SAA comes to the determination that they can’t win in the Race for Raqqa, then the second-best option might be to make a push on Deir ez Zor in order to stop the Kurdish-controlled “Federation of Northern Syria” from expanding further to the southeast and turning the Euphrates River into its de-facto border with what the YPG-SDF hope would eventually become “rump Syria” (possibly separated by a “UN buffer” just like in the occupied Golan Heights).

Prior to moving on, it needs to be underscored that the only reason why the US’ proxies are ahead in the Race for Raqqa is because the SAA is held back defending the liberated territories from the “Takfiri Tet Offensive”, which the US timed to occur precisely at the onset of the Kurds’ decisive trans-Euphrates operation against Tabqa and on the route to Raqqa’s southern banks.

The “Second Geopolitical ‘Israel’”

“Federalization” And “Confederalism”:

The geopolitical driver in post-war Syria will unquestionably be the Kurds, which have recently felt emboldened enough with their latest on-the-ground gains and conventional US military support to change their previous demands from “federalization” to “confederalism” or even outright “independence”. If the reader isn’t familiar with the author’s arguments against “federalization”, then it’s strongly suggested that they review the 13 articles cited in his analysis about the Russian-written “draft constitution”. The gist is that “federalization” amounts to nothing more than a de-facto internal partition which will inevitably prompt the breakdown of the state into a patchwork of identity-based statelets that could more easily be divided and ruled by the various Great Powers which are presently in competition over Syria.

What “confederalization” brings to the mix is a slightly different dynamic whereby the Kurds obtain an even higher degree of de-facto “independence” than they would under “federalization”, perhaps even allowing them to retain and build their own separate military forces, issue their own currency, and “legally” allow the US to retain its bases in “Rojava”. Whether “federalized”, “confederal”, or “independent’, the Kurdish goal is reminiscent of the US’ desire for a “second geopolitical ‘Israel’”, or put another way, a new “state” formed out of the territory of others and situated at a geostrategic location which allows its patrons to exert maximum influence on the surrounding area. Just as “Israel’s” location on the Eastern Mediterranean coast served this purpose ever since the end of World War II, so too will “Syrian Kurdistan” fulfill a complementary geostrategic need in the continental heart of the region after the conclusion of the present “Mideast World War”.

A Plan Long In The Making:

The author’s articles cited in the previously hyperlinked source elaborate on these designs much more in detail, but it’s important at this juncture to make the casual reader aware that none of this was unforeseeable and had actually been the publicly stated objective of two very influential American think tanks. The Brookings Institution published a policy paper in summer 2015 titled “Deconstructing Syria: Towards A Regionalized Strategy For A Confederal Country”, which built on the PYD-YPG Kurds’ own self-proclaimed “federal/confederal” manifesto from February of earlier that year. Nine months later in March 2016, the Kurds declared to the world that they would be carrying out their earlier-issued manifesto and implementing a “federal” system in northern Syria.

Over the summer of 2016, one year after the Brookings Institution was the first think tank to seriously introduce the idea of a “confederal” Syria to America decision makers and strategists, the RAND Corporation published the second edition of their “Peace Plan For Syria” that looked at “Options For Future Governance”, the most appealing of which they said was a “decentralized” trajectory that would eventually lead to some sort of de-facto “federalism” (though taking care to note that “this term connotes a Western conspiracy to many Syrians” and should avoid being mentioned if possible). The third and most recent installment of RAND’s “peace plan” came out in February and describes “Agreed Zones of Control, Decentralization, and International Administration”, concluding that the US and UN should occupy the post-Daesh portions of the country (especially around Raqqa) to create what are popularly known as “safe zones” (nowadays rebranded as “zones of stability” by Rex Tillerson).

Rounding out the scheme, The Carnegie Institution released a report in late-March suggesting that outsiders exploit Syria’s Decree 107 reform which was commissioned in mid-2011 in order to ‘legitimize’ the radical decentralization (read: “(con)federalization”) of the state. This sub-state geopolitical construct that they have in mind isn’t just limited to the ethnic Kurdish regions straddling the Turkish border, but most of northern and northeastern Syria as well, and this was revealed by the PYD-YPG Kurds’ own declaration that they want post-Daesh and majority Arab Raqqa to join their “project”. What’s happening in fact is that the Kurds are being used as the nuclei for catalyzing a “second geopolitical ‘Israel’” on Syrian territory, though under the pretext of “(con)federalization” which could dangerously spread to the rest of Syria. If this structural-ideological virus expands beyond the Euphrates and into the country’s populated western heartland, then it could lead to the political delineation of the state’s artificially provoked identity conflicts and thereby fulfil the Yinon Plan’s objectives for Syria.

What’s most curious about this visibly unfolding process, however, is that Russia doesn’t seem too eager to stop it, though there’s a set of interlinked reasons as to why that is.

Russian Roulette

Giving Credit Where Credit Is Due:

Everyone knows that Syria’s statehood was saved because of Russia’s decisive anti-terrorist intervention in preventing the country’s collapse, and all patriotic Syrians are forever thankful for the sacrifices that the brave men and woman of the Russian military have given in helping their country survive. Moscow has repeatedly explained its justifiable and understandable reasons for wanting to fight terrorism in Syria as opposed to eventually being forced to do so within its own borders, and the Russian authorities should be lauded for so prudently foreseeing the threats to their nation which were being hatched by international terrorists on Syrian territory. Even more so, they should be commended for having the political willpower to act in promoting their national interests and safeguarding the future security of their citizens.

These truisms are necessary to reiterate in order for the reader to avoid arriving at the false and misleading impression that what’s to follow is in any way criticizing Russia for embarking on its brave anti-terrorist mission in the Mideast.

Great Power Ambitions:

Russia, however, is a Great Power which has broad geostrategic interests in the New Cold War, and its strategists –which are among the best and more visionary in the world – wisely understand this and sought to use their country’s anti-terrorist involvement in Syria as a springboard for strengthening their international position. In a masterstroke of diplomacy, Russia was able to bring together Iran and Turkey in a Great Power Tripartite, the details of which the author described in a series of previous articles listed as part of his 2017 Mideast Forecast. The Astana Conferences which organically grew out of this format have breathed new life into its previously stalemated Geneva counterparts, though both formats are limited in their influence so long as Daesh still exists in Syria and ‘official’ post-war nationwide “Lines of Control” between the warring parties have yet to be established.

The 19th-Century Great Power Chessboard:

Once it gets to that point, however, it can be sure that Russia will look after its own broader geopolitical interests more actively than what it sees as Syria’s comparatively much narrower ones, and this aligns with what the author has previously written about in describing the “19th-Century Great Power Chessboard”. This concept refers to the idea that the world is returning to the 19th-century paradigm of Great Power Politics, with each major player focusing more on their bilateral or multilateral interactions with their similarly sized/influential peers than the ones which they already enjoy with their small- and medium-sized partners. Rather, it is the latter category (of which Syria is a key example) which provides the relevant Great Powers with a platform for both cooperation and conflict.

Russia is seeking to transform its rivals’ conflict over this country into a venue for cooperating more closely with all relevant parties, and it’s already succeeded in this regard through its rapprochement and subsequently renewed strategic partnership with Turkey. Similarly, Russia’s relations with “Israel” are at their best-ever level, and the author described (but by no means endorsed) the nature of this controversial relationship in a twopart article series for The Duran. In addition, Russia also has the (increasingly less likely) chance to use its anti-terrorist involvement in Syria to pioneer a breakthrough in the New Cold War with the US by finding common ground for a potential New Détente, thus proving how its involvement in this Mideast country has helped Moscow broaden its Great Power potential with Turkey, “Israel”, and prospectively even the US.

The possible trade-off, however, is that Russia might conclude that it can only “seal the deal” with its new Great Power ‘partners’ by steering Syria’s officials along a certain ‘trajectory’ during their ongoing constitutional reform process.

The Constitution, Kurds, And Turks

The Constitutional Quandary:

Well in advance of any sort of realistic political solution appearing on the horizon, however, it’s already evident that Russia’s Great Power prerogatives are much more powerful than its will to preserve the existing nature of the Syrian state. Moscow has already taken the initiative in writing a “draft constitution” for Syria which includes clauses that could be deliberately or inadvertently interpreted as facilitating Kurdish “federalization”. Russia insists that it is not pressuring Syria to accept any of its proposals and has reiterated on numerous occasions that it is up to the Syrians to agree on the details of the UNSC 2254-mandated constitutional revisionism that they’ll inevitably have to abide by, but this still doesn’t change the fact that some of Moscow’s long-term geostrategic motives could be evinced from the “Kurdish decentralization” suggestions contained in the “draft constitution”.

SAA jobar
“Heroes of the Syrian Army at the Textile Factory and surrounding areas of Jobar Damascus after defeating Al Qaeda terrorists”. (Photo: Facebook)

Aiming For A “Win-Win”?:

Russia is in a very advantageous position in Syria which has endowed it with maximum flexibility in influencing the country’s post-war future. Events on the ground and the international Western-backed conspiracy to “federalize” Syria so as to midwife the “second geopolitical ‘Israel’” of “Kurdistan” point to what some have said is the seemingly ‘inevitable’ decentralization in some form or another of the Syrian state, so Russia might be betting that it could (and should, as some have argued [though not the author]) take the initiative in guiding this purportedly ‘unavoidable’ process in order to best safeguard and perhaps even advance its own interests. It’s definitely risky, but it appears as though some factions in the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs are confident that they can pull off a “win-win” political solution in Syria which would work to Moscow’s benefit either way.

On the one hand, there are those who would celebrate if the US’ Kurdish proxies “defected” to Russia’s side after the war, which would equate to a geostrategic ‘coup’ whereby Moscow ‘steals’ Washington’s ally and uses it as an instrument of pressure in “keeping Turkey responsibly in line” as part of the Tripartite. This scenario is unlikely, though it would bring with it major dividends for Russia if Moscow can succeed in pulling it off. On the other hand, however, there’s the much more predictable possibility that this gambit fails and the Kurds remain the US’ primary Mideast ally (and possible back-up basing location if the Pentagon is ever kicked out of Incirlik), in which case Russia would still retain its influence over the much more populated western arc of the country. While the pro-American Kurds would control the country’s breadbasket, water supplies, and much of their mainland energy deposits, Russia would keep its military bases and Damascus-granted rights to develop, extract, and sell the country’s offshore natural resources.

Testing Turkey’s Temper:

Turkey can’t be expected to react too positively to the more formalized establishment of a post-Daesh Kurdish-controlled sub-state entity in northern Syria, though its reaction will depend on what this statelet’s leadership composition entails. If it continues to be led by the PYD-YPG armed gang which Ankara equates with PKK terrorists, then Turkey will probably either stage a Kurdish version of its Arab proxy-dominated Operation Euphrates Shield and/or seek to provoke a civil war in “Rojava”, both options of which the author described in his article about “Palymra’s Re-Liberation And The ‘Rojava Civil War’”. The understanding is that Turkey could tolerate a Kurdish-run polity in northern Syria so long as it’s loyal to Ankara, just as the Kurdish Democratic Party (KDP) leader Masoud Barzani’s Kurdish Regional Government (KRG) of Northern Iraq is, so what would be needed to bring the scenario in accordance with Turkey’s desires is for the KRG-based and KDP-allied “Kurdish National Council (KNC) to somehow come to power in this region.

Should any of the above come to pass, Turkey’s relations with either the US or Russia will irreversibly suffer, depending on which of these Great Powers exercises hegemony over “(con)federal Syrian Kurdistan”. Russia’s gambit to gain influence over this group might inadvertently lead to blowback if Ankara suspects Moscow of working against its national security interests through Russia’s patronage of the PYD-YPG, and any possible commencement of another Turkish invasion of Syria (albeit this time east of the Euphrates and with Turkish-backed KNC proxies) could put Erdogan at militant loggerheads with Russia again, all to the US’ strategic benefit. On the flipside, if – as is foreseeable – the PYD-YPG remains under Washington’s tutelage, then this might forever spell the end of the erstwhile American-Turkish Strategic Partnership, especially if Erdogan invades Syria again per the prior discussed scenario. In that case, it would be the US who would test Turkey’s temper, though in such a chain of events it’s very improbable that the Pentagon would militantly intervene in stopping its nominal NATO ally from killing off Washington’s Kurdish proxies.

The Odd Men Out: Iran And Hezbollah

Contextual Background Review:

The analysis has thus far not had any significant mentioning of Iran in Russia’s conflict resolution calculus for Syria, nor has it even touched upon the role of Hezbollah, though both of these were initially addressed in a prior piece published at the end of January. Just as back then, however, the same determinants are still in play guiding Russia’s anticipated attitude towards these two crucial actors. Moscow’s position on the “19th-Century Great Power Chessboard” is very strong and only increasing through its Neo-Realist (“cynical”) approach towards Syria, which to remind the reader, is being applied out of Russia’s interest to advance what its strategists and decision makers perceive (key word) to be the “greater good” in the New Cold War. Russia sincerely believes that its involvement in Syria was a game-changing moment in global geopolitics and opened up an unprecedented opportunity to finally make the emerging Multipolar World Order an irreversible reality, though what’s needed is for Moscow to find common ground with its Great Power rivals first.

Hezbollah

Iran isn’t such a rival, it’s actually a partner as per the Tripartite that was earlier described in the research, yet it might also – as “politically incorrect” as this may sound – be seen as somewhat “dispensable” in the greater scheme of things. To be clear, the author is not inferring that this is his own viewpoint or is the approach that should be followed, but is provocatively thinking aloud in trying to make sense of Russia’s larger Great Power engagements as of late and forecast the outcome that they might lead towards. On paper and in terms of official statements, Russian-Iranian relations have never been better at any point in history, and both sides are working very closely together in Astana, but there’s also a lot of informal distrust between the two, be it over the 1828 Treaty of Turkmenchay, the S-300 scandal of the 2010s, or the more recent Hamedan airbase “misunderstanding”, to name but a few examples.

For the record, Iran and Hezbollah have sacrificed many martyrs in order to save the Syrian people and the rest of the world from the scourges of Daesh terrorism, and their bravery and highly effective involvement in the War on Terror should be objectively recognized by all actors.

hez funeral
Mourners attend the May 14 2015, funeral of Hezbollah fighter Ahmad al-Amin in Babliyeh, Lebanon.

“Great Power Balancing”:

Having said that, however, these two are the “odd men out” of the geostrategic paradigm taking shape in post-Daesh Syria, and there doesn’t seem to be any party apart from themselves and Damascus which wants them to remain in the country after the war. Russia hasn’t officially voiced any opinion on the matter, so one can only speculate on its preferred outcome, though the fact that Moscow passively allows Tel Aviv to occasionally bomb Hezbollah and the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps’ (IRGC) in the country might shed some light on answering this question. In fact, if one pairs this “inconvenient truth” with the observable “Great Power Balancing” that Russia is engaged in with Turkey, “Israel”, and even to a degree with the US (per the Antalya Meeting) over Syria, a particular conclusion begins to reveal itself.

So as not to be misunderstood, the author isn’t saying that this is exactly what Russia has in mind, nor what it will 100% do, but given what was previously discussed in the above sections of this analysis, it looks like Russia might be open to the idea of seeing Iran and its Hezbollah ally depart Syria after the war is over, possibly betting that this would strengthen Moscow’s “19th-Century Great Power Chessboard” position with each of the three aforementioned actors (Ankara, Tel Aviv, and Washington), as well as facilitate potential behind-the-scenes breakthroughs with energy giants Saudi Arabia and Qatar. These latter two states are allied with the three previously mentioned ones, and all five have a deep interest in seeing Iran and Hezbollah removed from the Syrian equation. What the Gulf Kingdoms could potentially offer Russia in exchange for any benign influence that Moscow could exert in promoting this eventuality is investment and energy market cooperation/coordination, as well as the more immediate benefit of promising (key word) pragmatic multilateral cooperation in Syria’s post-conflict settlement.

The Limits Of Iranian Intransigence:

Continuing with the scenario – however it plays out (which is unclear, seeing as how it’s speculative, or at least for the time being) – Iran would of course be very upset at Russia for any pressure that it puts on Syria in this respect, but at the end of the day, it really isn’t in a position to do anything about it. Under Trump, the US is more openly and actively seeking to challenge Iran’s regional influence, and this includes through the reinforcement of the “Cerberus” alliance between itself, “Israel”, and Saudi Arabia. To this end, the US and its allies are putting pressure on Iran and hinting that they may walk away from the historic nuclear agreement that was signed in summer 2015, whether on their prerogative or due to some trumped-up (pun intended) pretext. Under the circumstances by which Iran could potentially return to being a (semi-)”isolated” state vis-à-vis the West (but not the East [China, India]), it would have comparatively fewer geostrategic options at its disposal other than to continue to cooperate with Russia regardless of any perceived blame that Tehran would attribute to Moscow for the Islamic Republic’s post-Daesh withdrawal from Syria.

While it’s “politically correct” to say that all states are equal with one another and nobody has the upper hand on anyone else (let alone their partners), the truth is that every pair of states is unequal in some respects, and that full “equality” only exists in theory. Bearing this in mind, the Russian-Iranian relationship is very unequal, though that’s not to render any judgement on it. In fact, it’s precisely because of this inequality that both sides are complementary to one another, as Iran is eager to receive Russian technological know-how, infrastructure investments (especially in the energy industry, both fossil fuel and nuclear), arms, and commercial products, while Moscow appreciates that Tehran has dispatched high-quality professionals to directly fight on the battlefield in Syria.

However, once the War of Terror on Syria is brought to an end, from a realpolitik perspective, Russia will have considerably less use for Iran’s military prowess in Syria, and conversely, Iran will have less to “offer” Russia in trying to maintain some elements of equality or even “advantage” over it.

This situation makes it more likely that Moscow wouldn’t object if Tehran’s forces and those of its non-state allies (Hezbollah) left Syria after the war ended, as it would self-interestedly improve Russia’s strategic standing vis-à-vis Iran by making the latter comparatively more dependent on its aforementioned cooperation and services. Iran, faced with an increasingly hostile West and regional neighborhood, and possibly refocusing its geostrategic priorities from post-Daesh Syria to what could by then become another Iraqi Civil War or other related crisis closer to its own borders, might conclude that it has no practical choice other than to continue and even expand its mutually beneficial cooperation with Russia in spite of whatever post-war ‘strategic divergence’ they end up having over Syria. To reinforce the author’s recurring point, this scenario is not being advocated at all, but needs to responsibly be countenanced in light of the latest diplomatic and backstage Great Power developments in the War on Syria.

Concluding Thoughts

Expect Compromises:

The coming six-month horizon in the War of Terror on Syria is poised to be its most militarily and diplomatically eventful, as all sides race to the finish line in defeating Daesh and gaining the upper hand in the post-war conflict resolution process. Russia is uniquely positioned in such a way that it stands to “win” no matter how the predictably prolonged political settlement plays out, though the same can’t be said for all of the other actors involved in this conflict, Syria included. It’s very rare for any war nowadays (key word) to be concluded without some degree of compromises, concessions, and trade-offs taking place between all sides, and in a very complicated and quagmire-prone situation where Russia has wisely opted to seek a political – and not military – solution to the conflict (just as all sides have officially done, at least), it’s clear that Moscow lacks the will to commit itself to advancing Damascus’ preferred outcome of retaining the country’s unity.

Dispel Wishful Thinking:

If the opposite were the case and Russia was convinced that the only scenario which would serve its Great Power interests was that Syria remained internally whole and not “(con)federally” divided or decentralized, then it would have resorted to military force in opposing both Turkey and the US’ conventional invasions of the Arab Republic. Since it didn’t, however, then the only logical conclusions that can be derived are that Russia has either reached some sort of tacit understanding with these two (whether bilaterally or multilaterally, and potentially formalized at Antalya), and/or assessed its options and capabilities before it decided to “settle” for the related “less-than-desirable” consequences of those two moves. Accordingly, the same reasoning can be applied as it relates to the Kurds’ quest to carve out a “second geopolitical ‘Israel’” – either Moscow has a secret plan in mind which explains why it didn’t militantly oppose this move, or it lacks the political-military will to stop it and is instead “going along” with events and trying to steer them in their hoped-for direction instead (hence the “decentralization” clauses in the Russian-written “draft constitution”).

It would be ideal if Syria could liberate every square inch of its territory, though its prospects for doing so phenomenally decrease the more that Russia passively cooperates with the Turks, Kurds, “Israelis”, Americans, and possibly others in Syria. That’s not to suggest that Russia is working against Syria, but as was thoroughly explained, just that Moscow is behaving according to the rules of the “19th-Century Great Power Chessboard” in pursuing what it believes to be the “greater good” – beginning first and foremost with its own interests (though not intentionally at the expense of its small- and medium-sized partners like Syria). Accepting this reality as representative of the contemporary situation and fighting back the urge to indulge in wishful (and given the context, irresponsibly counterproductive) thinking, a few concluding forecasts can be issued about what might come next:

Forecasts:

Hell On The Home Front

The YPG-SDF are blocking the SAA’s possible advance to Raqqa through their cross-Euphrates operation against Tabqa and its namesake dam, and seeing as how Syria might not be able to expend the troops necessary to compete in the Race for Raqqa while safeguarding the populated western interior from the “Takfiri Tet Offensive”, it might opt instead to make a push from Palmyra towards Deir ez Zor and preempt the US’ proxies from surrounding that strategic city too. There’s a relatively better chance that Syria can succeed in the liberation of Deir ez Zor than Raqqa, though it must be said that the key determinants will be manpower, supply lines, and preventing the long logistics route that would be needed for this operation from being sabotaged by terrorist attacks. On the ‘home front’, so to speak, Syria must make sure that the Kurds’ “(con)federal” plans aren’t taken to their maximum extreme in promoting “communalism” all throughout the country’s large and ‘mixed’ population centers west of the Euphrates (“on the Damascus side of the river”), which would in that case result in either the block-by-block dysfunctional administrative-political division of each city or ethnic cleansing/genocide.

Formalized Internationalization Through The UN

Broadening the situational horizons to the international scene, the interrelated post-war Astana and Geneva negotiations might see most of the state parties uniting against Iran’s interests, despite Tehran being a member of these negotiating processes. Serious plans could be in the works for the IRGC and Hezbollah’s removal after the war, and these could be accelerated through the formalization of “safe/security zones” in the north and south of the country. UN and/or multinational coalition “peacekeeper” involvement (comprised of Russia, US, Turkey, and/or the Saudi’s “anti-terrorist” grouping) in dividing the SAA from the YPG-SDF (and perhaps also the “moderate rebel opposition” fighters west of the Euphrates around Idlib) could have the effect of formalizing Syria’s internal partition. Cognizant of this, the SAA might choose to initiate a preemptive ‘breakthrough’ operation if multilateral international ‘intervention’ appears inevitable in order to liberate as much ground as possible prior to an enforced cessation of hostilities, which might see it attack the YPG-SDF (or vice-versa). It’s almost certain at this point that Syria will either slide into an actual civil war between the SAA and YPG-SDF, or will be internally partitioned between the two and have this new status quo enforced by UN and/or multilateral coalition “peacekeepers”.

Unlikely Miracles

At such a point, the “decentralization” clauses of the Russian-written “draft constitution” for Syria will appear as mere formalities to institutionalize the obvious, and whether or not Syrians actually accept them in a forthcoming referendum will be a moot point. Nevertheless, the internal partition of Syria is not inevitable, although it’s never had greater prospects of ‘succeeding’ than it does now as all parties race towards the finishing line and rush to bring an end to the military portion of the war. This scenario can still be avoided by a miraculous series of events which would require that:

1:  Syria counters the ideological virus of communalism;

2:  The SAA decisively stamps out the “Takfiri Tet Offensive”;

3:  Enough manpower can be urgently mustered for the SAA to make a sprint towards Raqqa and Deir ez Zor;

4:  Turkey reinvades northern Syria east of the Euphrates and stops the YPG-SDF from liberating Raqqa;

5: Russia reverses its “political solution” approach and commits the necessary military forces for retaking Raqqa and Deir ez Zor;

6: the PYD-YPG is dissolved and replaced with a Damascus-friendly Kurdish faction which doesn’t want “decentralization”, “federalism”, “confederalism”, or “independence”;

7: Turkey and the US peacefully withdraw from northern Syria;

8: and “safe/stability” zones are averted.

To be frank, it’s doubtful that all of these will happen, let alone in the order or time that they’re needed, so as much as it pains the author to openly express it, Syria must begin planning for the contingency measures that it will be compelled to implement if the partition scenario becomes inevitable. It’s up to Syrians and their representatives to brainstorm what would have to be done under such dark circumstances as the country’s internal division, but as a concluding remark, the author truly believes that Syrians can and will survive whatever challenges they’re confronted with in the future, and that history will harshly judge those who were in one way or another responsible for its civilization’s suffering.

SAA qaboun
“Victory over terrorism is the only solution – Syrian Army in Al Qaboun, East Damascus after defeating Al Qaeda terrorists.” (Photo: Facebook)

DISCLAIMER: The author writes for this publication in a private capacity which is unrepresentative of anyone or any organization except for his own personal views. Nothing written by the author should ever be conflated with the editorial views or official positions of any other media outlet or institution. 

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Andrew Korybko is a political analyst, journalist and a regular contributor to several online journals, as well as a member of the expert council for the Institute of Strategic Studies and Predictions at the People’s Friendship University of Russia. He specializes in Russian affairs and geopolitics, specifically the US strategy in Eurasia. His other areas of focus include tactics of regime change, color revolutions and unconventional warfare used across the world. His book, “Hybrid Wars: The Indirect Adaptive Approach To Regime Change”, extensively analyzes the situations in Syria and Ukraine and claims to prove that they represent a new model of strategic warfare being waged by the US.

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We are a North American and European-based, grass-roots, independent blog offering geopolitical news and media analysis, working with an array of volunteer contributors who write and help to analyse news and opinion from around the world.
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Independent Journalist covering news & analysis you won't find on CNN, BBC et all - for those who no longer buy the lies of Mainstream Media... #SundayWire
@darcinelson Thank you. Agreed. - 4 hours ago
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