MESOP : PUTIN’S DIMENSION OF DEMOCRACY & A NEW STRATEGY ON SYRIA – Russia’s Political Strategy of a “Proper” Opposition

WEST KURDISTAN (SYRIA) – Looking for a way out of its stalemate in Syria’s conflict, Russia is again promoting a “proper” opposition for political talks. The approach could be part of a revised strategy in which Moscow seeks an accommodation with countries, such as Turkey, who have been long-time backs of the Syrian opposition and rebels. On Tuesday, the Russian Foreign Ministry hosted a delegation from Syria’s Kurdish National Council. Deputy Foreign Minister Mikhail Bogdanov declared:

The sides exchanged views on the development of the situation in Syria and the tasks of political settlement of the Syrian crisis on the basis of the Geneva communique of June 30, 2012, corresponding resolutions of the United Nations Security Council and the International Syria Support Group.

It was stressed that it is important to involve representatives of the country’s all ethnic and religious groups to the intra-Syrian negotiating process in Geneva to find lasting solutions and decide on the future of a united, independent and sovereign Syria.

Russia has developed ties with the Syrian Kurdish Democratic Union Party (PYD), the leading Kurdish group in the conflict because of its YPG militia which has taken territory from the Islamic State — and also Syrian rebels — across northern Syria. However, other groups within the Kurdish National Council, formed under an October 2011 agreement, have had political clashes with the PYD.

The Russians may also have used the meeting to try and ease relations between the Kurdish groups and Turkey, which views the movement with suspicion because of the war with its Kurdish insurgency PKK.

Earlier this week, Moscow announced a breakthrough in its dispute with Ankara, with Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan apologizing for November’s downing of a Russian warplane and killing of its pilot near the Turkish-Syrian border. Both Erdoğan and Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu will soon visit Russia for discussions.

On Monday, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov hosted the leader of the Syria’s Tomorrow movement, Ahmad al-Jarba to talk about “Russia’s efforts in the interests of political settlement”.

Founded in March, Syria’s Tomorrow is a relatively small political faction, but Jarba is a former President of the Syrian National Coalition, the main externally-based opposition movement.

The Foreign Ministry emphasized that the two men “discussed prospects for the United Nations-brokered intra-Syrian contacts in Geneva between delegations of the Syrian government and a wide spectrum of representatives of the Syrian opposition who condemn terrorism”.

Getting Out of A Military Challenge

The meetings with Jarba and the Kurdish National Council appear to be a re-launch of a Russian strategy to get out of an increasingly difficult political and military position in Syria.

Russia’s aerial intervention from last September, with thousands of strikes supporting ground offensives, had immediate success in propping up the Assad regime and preventing further rebel advances that threatened the collapse of the Syrian military.

However, the bombings, equipment, and “advisors” on the ground have not brought a decisive victory, particularly in the northwest where rebels have counter-attacks and regained some territory in the past three months.

Meanwhile, indirect talks between the regime and the Syrian opposition-rebel bloc from January to April in Geneva — brokered by the US and Russia — offered no political way out of the military stalemate. President Assad blocked any movement with his rejection of a transitional governing council, and the opposition-rebel High Negotiations Committee suspended participation when the regime continued bombing and sieges.

The High Negotiations Committee, created in Saudi Arabia in December, includes representatives of the Syrian National Coalition and leading rebel factions. Russia has tried unsuccessfully to get the involvement of Kurdish factions, notably the PYD, and Syria-based political groups in the discussions.