Monday, March 21, 2016

241.5 - Updates about Syria

Updates about Syria

Finally, something here that may be Good News. We'll have to wait and see. It involves developments in Syria.

First, contrary to all expectations, the limited ceasefire in Syria is holding into its third week, opening the possibility - and it as of now is only that, but it is a possibility - of peace. The violence hasn't actually stopped, even in the areas affected by the declared ceasefire, but it is down significantly and humanitarian aid is getting through - and in the context of Syria, that alone is enough to qualify as good news.

What's more, UN-mediated peace talks have actually - yes they have - started in Geneva. Success is far from assured, but this is further than things have gotten before.

Next, Russian president Vladimir Pukin' startled the world community by announcing on March 14 that "the main part" of Russian armed forces in Syria would start to withdraw, declaring that "the task ... has, on the whole, been fulfilled."

The question all along had been just what that task was. Pukin' said the bombing campaign was to attack Daesh, but in actual practice it was clear the purpose was to support his ally, Syrian president Bashar al-Assad. Most of the attacks - 80% by one analysis - were on territory held by Syrian opposition groups where Assad's forces were launching an offensive.

Vladimir Putin
It's thought by many that Russia's bombing campaign has helped Assad regain the initiative against his opponents. But if that's true, then why is Pukin' pulling out now?

Actually, a more immediate question is, is he pulling out? Even after this withdrawal, there will still be a whole lotta Russian stuff in Syria, including two military bases, meaning he could direct his forces back into the war any time. Opposition groups in the rebel-held city of Aleppo dismissed the withdrawal as "propaganda."

On the other hand, and this is where prospects for peace start to brighten, we go back to the question of what it was Pukin' was trying to accomplish. And there are a number of analysts who are suggesting that his purpose was not so much to help Assad defeat the rebels as it was to insure Russia - meaning himself - a greater role in the Middle East. Put another way, the Russian footprint in the Middle East has been more of a toe than a foot of late, and he wanted to expand that. That was his concern.

So once his ally Assad was safe, was not threatened with the possibility of being overrun, that is, once there was a secure base for Russian influence in the region, and once, through that, Pukin' had established himself as a playah, one he had secured a seat at the grown-ups' table, well, as he said, "the task has been fulfilled."

So in that line of thought, why should he stay? Why shouldn't he withdraw? In fact, it would be in his interest to do withdraw.

Bashar al-Assad
What this ultimately means for Syria in not, of course, immediately clear. In the short term, what is does do, for one thing, is to increase pressure on Assad to reach a political settlement if he can no longer count on Russian air support in his war against the rebels, without which his regime had been facing defeat just months ago.

What such a political settlement might be is pretty much up for grabs. At this point, short of a renewed and all-out Russian war on the Syrian rebels - one that would prove to be protracted and very bloody at a time when Russian's own economic troubles put restraints on how many resources Pukin' could actually devote to such a war even as it would also raise the potential for international economic repercussions - short of such an unlikely event, one thing that seems likely is that Assad's new Syria will not look like his old Syria. Power-sharing, a coalition government, even one without Assad, and even more dramatic alternatives such as federated states or outright partition could be in the offing.

The cold, the hunger, the blood, the death, none of it is over for the Syrians. But by a rather bizarre confluence of big-power interests, for the first time in five years it may be possible to imagine an end to it.

And isn't that Good News.

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