Idlib problem: Questions that gained topicality after Tehran summit

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Baku, 11 September 2018 –

The Turkish, Russian and Iranian presidents` discussing Idlib in Tehran has grabbed global media spotlight. The trilateral summit was followed by discussions at the United Nations, which resulted in seven member states making a joint statement, demanding a political and diplomatic solution to the problem. Germany, France, the United Kingdom and Sweden were among them. The statement affirmed support for Turkey`s efforts to push for a peaceful resolution. It also hailed Recep Tayyip Erdogan`s and Vladimir Putin`s call to find a political and diplomatic solution to Idlib problem. The Syrian opposition`s representative to the UN unequivocally stressed the necessity of supporting Ankara`s position. He said Turkey plays a key role in seeking peace in Syria. Against this background, there is a need to assess geopolitical importance of the Tehran summit and analyze the issues discussed there.

The Gordian knot of the Middle East: A tough challenge for superpowers

Idlib problem has become the Gordian knot of the Syria crisis, as experts concluded after the Tehran summit of the Turkish, Russian and Iranian leaders. The whole world had a firm belief that there were real chances of the "big troika'' finding a solution to the Syria problem. But thought-provoking and worrying factors emerged. What is their essence? What divides the three countries?

In fact, the emergence of this situation had never been ruled out. Experts expected that Russia, Iran and Turkey, which pursue their own interests in the Middle East, would fail to reach a common position at some point. This manifested itself in Idlib problem. Helped by Russia, the Syrian regime launched an offensive on Idlib. Bashar Assad deployed a 28,000-strong army in the area, with Russia providing air support.

There are millions of civilians and armed groups in Idlib who fled military operations in Aleppo and neighbouring districts. Turkey helped some of the armed moderate opposition groups to get to Idlib when the Assad regime attacked Aleppo. But millions of civilians also fled to Turkey in the wake of the military operations. This increased the number of Syrian refugees in Turkey to 3.5 million.

Idlib also became the last refuge of three million people. Among them are also seven armed groups, including Jabhat al-Nusra (its name has changed), who are hiding among civilians. These groups also include units, which are part of the Free Syrian Army. All the groups are now involved in defense of Idlib. However, each of these groups pursues its own goals.

Russia, Iran and Assad regime are bombing Idlib without distinguishing between civilian population and terrorists and conducting land operations. Turkey attaches serious importance to civilians` security. In addition, Turkey distinguishes between the moderate and other opposition in Syria and wants it to be involved in the formation of the Syrian political power. It is the primary source of disagreement between Russia, Iran and Turkey.

Moscow and Tehran are doing their utmost to ensure that Bashar Assad remains the decisive factor. They prefer Assad to remain in power on the pretext of democratic elections because since Russia and Iran do not enjoy enough influence within the local society, the Assad regime is their main stronghold in Syria. Moscow is interested in maintaining its political dominance in Syria as it is investing huge funds in the military operations in the country. And the most reliable way of achieving this is through keeping Assad in power at least temporarily.

Turkey and western powers want post-war restoration of Syria and equal involvement of different forces in the political power. They believe that the Assad regime will fall from power and a new coalition government will be formed in Syria involving moderate opposition. This will pave the way for the restoration of the country`s political system. Some aspects of Assad`s long-term policy will most probably be discussed during this process.

Peace or war: necessity of preventing a human catastrophe

The parties cannot make concessions to each other on such principal issues. This is why Russia, Iran and Assad are trying to completely eliminate armed opposition groups in order to benefit from this as a political argument. This is the political picture of the military drama in Idlib.

The other side of the story is related to the possibility of global powers` intervention in Idlib. Moscow and Tehran do not want Berlin, Paris, London and Washington to interfere because they then will have to share their political "advantage''. Russia and Iran will be in minority, and the course of events may be to their disadvantage. Turkey is in favor of balance and justice in this issue. For Ankara, integrity of the Syrian society and state is above all because any radical group`s seizing power there will pose a direct threat to Turkey. This will at least encourage separatist moods. Turkey therefore considers PYD/YPG terror groups in Syria, which enjoy US support, as being very dangerous. When Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan told this his Russian counterpart when they met in Tehran, Vladimir Putin was very surprised. The US supported these terror groups with 18,000 truckloads and 3,000 cargo planes filled with new generation ammunition and weaponry. As a result, PYD/YPG terror groups take huge profit ($700-800 million) from oil-rich regions of Syria, including Deir ez-Zor. Their profit from crude oil amounts to nearly $300 million.

Turkey proved, based on concrete evidence, that regardless of the diplomatic efforts taken by Russia, Turkey and Iran, weaponry deployed by the US in the region can completely change the situation overnight. America is undoubtedly waiting for this very moment. As soon as Russia, Turkey and Iran achieve a political and diplomatic solution to the problem, Washington will try to change game rules with a fresh wave of terror. This is the reason why Erdogan focused so deeply on Idlib during the Tehran summit.

A closer look at the problem explains why disagreement in Tehran was so dangerous. If to look at the problem in the context of ensuring Assad`s political ambitions, then Moscow, Ankara and Tehran will lose the geopolitical war to Washington. We are absolutely convinced of this. If the three countries approach the problem in a broader context of ensuring peace, independence and territorial integrity of Syria and a fair resolution of the problem, they can build a lasting peace both in the Middle East and neighbouring geopolitical regions (including Russia and Iran). Most importantly, this will prevent the spread of terrorism.

Although the Tehran declaration featured several important points, it did not completely reflect the reality. The main reason behind this is that the leaders failed to reach agreement on a number of principal points and decided to discuss them at their next meetings. But processes are developing at a rapid pace, with new realities emerging.

Idlib problem seems to remain high on the agenda of superpowers, which will most probably deepen West-Russia confrontation. Manbij and Deir-ez-Zor problems may also worsen. Turkey said the US failed to keep its promise on Manbij, accusing Washington of arming the terrorists and preparing them for war. This may cause wide-ranging calamities in the region. Iraq is being gradually involved in the processes. From this point of view, the events taking place in Basra are thought-provoking. It seems that certain powers are trying to use every occasion in the Middle East against Iran.

The Tehran Summit of the presidents of Turkey, Russia and Iran is of crucial geopolitical importance. Confrontation among superpowers is reaching a new level. They are now taking open steps. In this context, Idlib is of particular importance as the battle for this region may decide the outcome of the war. Will this struggle lead to a full-fledged regional war? Will terror spread to other places? Answers to these questions should be found immediately. Experts believe that the battle for Idlib will play a decisive role in the Syrian war.

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