Currently, marketing for the Astana track toward a political solution in Syria is being carried out by Russia, Iran, and Turkey, with Iran and Russia agreeing to act as guarantors of the political solution. In what appears to be a never-ending process, the Syrian coalition has sent its representatives to meetings 20 times which has only contributed to marketing the track as the next solution. Regardless of the opposition’s performance and who is promoting this track, the question remains; Can this track end with a reconstruction project for Syria?
Let’s imagine that the Astana track succeeds in achieving its goal and proceeds according to the Russian and Iranian interpretation of Resolution 2254 which involves a “unified national government” under Assad’s rule. Two ministers from the “locally made” opposition, as per Assad’s terminology, are appointed and the “Constitutional Committee” has completed its proposals and presented them to the current People’s Council which includes parties from the Progressive National Front. They agree to change one or two clauses without altering the structure and composition of Assad’s sectarian security-military system.
Therefore, the “day after” the Astana track has come to the end of its line, the Syrian file will be closed due to the efforts of successive UN envoys with thanks for their “creative” politics as well as the exceptional performance of the “opposition.”
Despite all of Russia’s media campaigns about BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa), it continues to be aligned with the West and engaged in various partnerships including the grand project of a land route connecting India and Europe through the Gulf States
So what happens next?
It is expected that the US forces will withdraw from the northeastern areas as a retaliatory move against Russia due to their conflict over the Russian invasion of Ukraine. Nevertheless, America will strengthen its presence in Syria in order to enforce the “Caesar Act” and close the Syrian-Iraqi and Syrian-Jordanian borders.
It is also expected that Turkish forces will remain in Syria with Russian approval. Relations between Russia and Turkey are in a honeymoon phase and they cannot afford to lose a Turkish partner that transports Russian gas through the TurkStream pipeline to Europe and the world. Russia’s economic situation and international isolation, despite its overt bravado, will further cement this partnership. Despite all of Russia’s media campaigns about BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa), it continues to be aligned with the West and engaged in various partnerships including the grand project of a land route connecting India and Europe through the Gulf States.
Consequently, Syria will remain divided into three spheres of influence: Russian, American, and Turkish, with 830 foreign military bases on Syrian soil. With the implementation of the Astana track, the Iranian, Russian, and Syrian regime’s presence will be consolidated over 63% of Syria’s territory. But will the “National Unity Government” under Assad’s leadership succeed in rebuilding 63% of Syria? First and foremost, it must be emphasized that the implementation of the achievements of the Astana-Sochi track does not guarantee the unity of Syrian territory despite the claims of the 20 Astana statements about “unity,” “independence,” and the “sovereignty” of Syria. The application of these achievements pertains to only 63% of Syria with its 520 Iranian military bases in addition to Russian and American ones. These will undermine the claims of “sovereignty,” let alone the unrealistic claims of “independence” and “unity of Syrian territory.”
There are typically four pillars for the success of a reconstruction process: security, justice, reconciliation, and social welfare which can only be achieved with the cooperation of the government. Do you think that the Russian, Iranian, Turkish, and American armies will close their military bases and withdraw from Syria after the Astana tracks? If the answer is no, how can security be ensured? The worst-case scenario could be scorched earth and the testing of 320 types of Russian weapons on the Syrian people similar to what Russia did in 1994 with Chechnya.
It is worth noting that despite the Russian army’s control of Chechnya in February 1995, the Chechen resistance continued to pose a threat to Chechen security. The Chechen parliament and police, controlled by Kadyrov, a supporter of the Russian government, were susceptible to attacks by the Chechen resistance. Eventually, the turmoil reached Moscow and in October 2002 Chechen rebels seized a theater in Moscow and held more than 700 people hostage. In typical autocratic fashion, Russian forces used an unknown gas to subdue the militants resulting in the deaths of 41 rebels and 129 hostages. In June 2003, Chechen suicide bombers killed 16 people at a music concert in Moscow. In February 2004, a suicide bomber detonated a bomb on a Moscow metro train, killing 40 people. The most recent of these attacks occurred in December 2014 when militants launched an attack on a building in Grozny resulting in the deaths of at least 20 people. The blame for these attacks was often placed on Chechen fighters. Will Syria experience a similar future if Russia follows the Chechen solution in Syria?
Syria will remain under international sanctions, and international investors will shy away from investing in a “unified” Syria that consists of only 63% of Syria’s territory
How can there be any element of security with the presence of the Assad regime’s intelligence and security apparatus in addition to Russia, Iran, and sectarian militias? If there is no higher level of security, international investors and countries will not invest in an unstable state covering 63% of Syria’s territory.
From an economic perspective, due to the current division, the Syrian treasury will be deprived of Syrian oil and the agricultural production outside Russian control. Furthermore, due to the lack of security, millions of Syrian professionals and workers, in addition to regular labor, are unlikely to return, with at most 10% expected to return under the best of circumstances. Syria will remain under international sanctions, and international investors will shy away from investing in a “unified” Syria that consists of only 63% of Syria’s territory. Additionally, the Syrian banking system will remain disabled from the international world, dealing only with Russia, Iran, and a few quasi-states. This will not be conducive to Syrian economic development.
Even before the Russian invasion of Ukraine, Russia did not invest financially in Syria; it contented itself with signing binding agreements with the Assad regime regarding all Syrian sovereign assets, making Russia the “exclusive agent” of the Syrian economy in anticipation of the reconstruction process. Western companies are talking to Russia as the agent of the Syrian economy. Naturally, after the war in Ukraine, Russia is unlikely to invest, especially in its current dire economic situation, with the ruble recently plummeting from 62 to 103 per US dollar. Russia has also lost over a thousand companies that withdrew from the Russian market after being cut off from the SWIFT system. The size of the Russian financial stock market is less than $700 billion, with the market capitalization of traded companies lower than the stock market in Johannesburg, South Africa ($1.1 trillion), Taiwan ($1.71 trillion), Hong Kong ($4.6 trillion), and South Korea ($1.9 trillion). These figures are incomparable to the size of the New York Stock Exchange ($24 trillion) and NASDAQ ($22 trillion).
The main challenge facing the future “Government of National Unity” will be that, in addition to being deprived of 40% of what the Syrian land produces, it will be beholden to Russia and Iran. Virtually all sovereign assets have been granted to Iranians and Russians. For example, there is no longer any Syrian port in Syria; they are all operated by Russia. Sixty-three percent of Syria is bound by over 51 agreements with Iran and over 60 agreements with Russia, some of which extend up to 74 years. For instance, the Tartus port agreement with Russia has a duration of 49 years and automatically extends for 25 more! Furthermore, the agreement grants the Russians rights “on the surface and bottom of the sea.”
prospects for the reconstruction of the Russian-controlled area representing 63% of Syria’s territory, boosting the Syrian economy, and improving the living standards of the 95% of Syrians living below the poverty line are very weak
In addition to the above, the “Chechen-Syrian National Unity Government” will have to assume the Iranian debts (Iran claims they are $50 billion) as well as the Russian debts. This means that not only have the Russians and Iranians killed and displaced 13 million Syrians, but also for the next 10 generations Syrians will have to repay the debts and abide by the contracts signed by the Assad regime that bind future Syrian generations. Despite its claims to be working towards a free and independent Syria, the “creative opposition” acknowledges Iran and Russia as the “guarantors” of the political solution and continues to demand the implementation of Resolution 2254 according to the Iranian-Russian understanding.
In reality, prospects for the reconstruction of the Russian-controlled area representing 63% of Syria’s territory, boosting the Syrian economy, and improving the living standards of the 95% of Syrians living below the poverty line are very weak. Instead of providing a road to reconstruction in Syria the Astana-Sochi process will likely lead to the destruction of what remains of the Syrian economy driving even more Syrians away, increasing their emigration, and thus completing the Iranian regime’s demographic change project and implementing its agenda in the region.