The Syrian knot cannot be cut without devastating consequences

Federica Mogherini, in the foreground, during a meeting of the International Syria Support Group (ISSG), which didn’t manage to offer any kind of support to the devastated country. Date: 11/02/2016. Location: Munich.© European Union, 2016/ Source: EC - Audiovisual Service/Photo: Günter Schiffmann.

Federica Mogherini, in the foreground, during a meeting of the International Syria Support Group (ISSG), which didn’t manage to offer any kind of support to the devastated country. Date: 11/02/2016. Location: Munich.© European Union, 2016/Source: EC – Audiovisual Service/Photo: Günter Schiffmann.

Brussels seems quite lost with what is happening now in Syria. The statement issued last Monday 15 February by the European High Representative Mogherini and Commissioner Stylianides on the atrocious and murderous attacks on hospitals and schools in Syria stands as an infallible witness to that. At this point in time, the foreign powers, regional or global, have dropped their masks as defenders of the population as they ruthlessly engage tearing apart what is left standing from the country. Still, Brussels laments the once quite effective Syrian health system.

The Press release issued by those two Brussels dignitaries says that “in the case of Syria, these systematic assaults have already broken the country’s health system, which suffers from a severe lack of treatment and medicine”. As if this naivety was not enough to show that Brussels has nothing to say about what is happening there and it’s the national governments in London, Paris and elsewhere who matter, the above mentioned Press release mumbles that, “in the light of recent agreements reached in Munich and Geneva as regards humanitarian confidence-building measures, we expect all parties to the conflict to refrain from targeting civilians and civilian infrastructure”.

Astounded Brussels

Seemingly, in Brussels, they don’t read the announcements of those who today butcher Syria, which once was the cradle of civilization. Moscow, Ankara and Riyadh openly and loudly advertise that they are ready to boost their deadly and destructive interference in order to better support their own units of killers. Actually, Turkey and Saudi Arabia have ostracized Bashar al-Assad, not even caring for political correctness, to add that at the end he should be sent away by the Syrians themselves.

In reality, Assad is not anymore President of anything, because Syria has stopped to exist. Nevertheless, he is always the leader of a large part of the population. This part of people and Assad’s fate are closely interrelated, having strong ties and references to the old political structures and the Alawite Shiite Muslim sect. In this respect, some millions of Syrians will be in grave danger without Assad and the support of what is left of the old Arabic socialist statehood structures. Turkey and Saudi Arabia are now openly threatening this part of the population with total extinction. They both know well about genocides and ruthless domination.

Assad’s followers in existential war

Assad’s followers knew that from the very beginning and have fought well all along those long years of war. Actually, they are fighting for their lives and their families, because the ‘enemy’ is the merciless butchers of ISIS plus the ruthless mercenaries of Riyadh and Ankara. As for the fictitious political ‘opposition’ to Assad which was created and trained by the Americans with $500 million, they have all defected to ISIS or the other mercenary groups supported by Saudi Arabia and Turkey, after the Washington dollars were exhausted. As a result, the US is left without a direct leverage on the ground and relies military on air bombings and a relationship with the YPG Kurd fighters.

It seems though that the American pilots are not as effective as the Russians, because those last ones in the brief period they supported Assad managed to give him the upper hand in all fronts. As a result, the Americans, in order to secure their position in the multi-front conflict, formed an alliance with strong ground forces of the Syrian Kurds who have fought well against ISIS, protecting their lives, their families and practically the existence of their nation. Washington though hasn’t stopped the Turks from bombing the Kurd strongholds in the north.

The Kurds hold a key

But why does Ankara extend now its animosity to include the YPG Kurds in Syria after having attacked the PKK (Kurdistan Workers’ Party) forces on its own soil? The modern times Turkish ‘Sultan’ Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, when one year ago chose to end the Kurdish peace process in Turkey had very good reasons. The PKK which for decades vies for the autonomy of the Kurds in Turkey saw a big opportunity in Syria.

The effective autonomy which the Syrian Kurds managed to gain in the north of Syria along the Turkish borders, in a region where the PKK is active, presented a rare opportunity for cooperation. The People’s Protection Units (YPG), the military wing of the Syrian Kurds Democratic Union Party (PYD), have proved very successful in the Syrian multifaceted fighting.

They owe a lot however to the PKK fighters, who have a long experience in confronting the Turkish armed forces. The two together, PKK and YPG actually have managed to change the entire course of the war. They were for many months the only force which effectively contained the expansion of ISIS and have pushed the other armed factions away from their territory. Now they are engaging in extending this area to the dismay of Turkey.

The Sunni – Shia knot

The military ability of the Kurds in Syria, plus the Russian support of the Assad forces and the ability of the Shia fighters from the Lebanon and Iraq (financed by Iran), all together are now threatening with a full defeat not only the Sunni maniacs of ISIS but also all the other Sunni related fighting groups.

In short, Turkey, Saudi Arabia and the Americans who have fashioned all the Sunni motivated wars in the greater Middle Eastern region, even since the times of the Taliban and the war against the Russian occupation of Afghanistan. This time though, they are all threatened by a complete defeat in Syria.

The many US leverages

Of course, the Americans do not count on being stuck in the losing side. They managed to exploit Iran’s willingness to return to international normality. Now Tehran is very close to the West as it was made obvious in Paris last month, with France being the closest ally to Washington all along the Syrian catastrophe. France is already getting some spoils from Iran in the form of multibillion contracts.

Understandably, Washington will get the largest cut of the new Middle East pie in the form of close control of the Iranian oil which is to be negotiated exclusively in dollars. The US will of course retain its strong grip on the oil rich kingdoms of the Gulf. They have nowhere else to seek protection from their enemies.

The Russians are there to stay

As for the Russians, Syria is their last chance to prove that they can stand on their feet in the world arena. The West inspired and supported all the latest Kiev revolutions which have threatened Moscow where it hurts more, at the borders of the vast country. In the same way, Saudi Arabia and Turkey are under grave threat, in the same desperate position as Russia, in the sense that they are both fighting to save what can be saved in the Sunni camp. This makes them less willing to negotiate in the Syrian puzzle.

Iran’s return to the international scene will be a painful thorn in Saudi Arabia’s side for many years to come. Coming to Turkey, it may lose much more from the solidification of another Kurdish quasi state, this time in North Syria, side by side with the American controlled north Iraqi Kurdish administration and the PKK controlled regions in Turkey proper.

Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Iran

Evidently, all those sides which are directly implicated in the destruction of Syria and large parts of northern Iraq paid no attention to the refugee predicament, a direct side effect of their action that afflicts many EU countries including Germany. Possibly some of the main players in Syria like the US and Russia don’t even care if Europe is brought to its knees politically from the refugee flows.

Germany stands by the EU principles

It appears however, that the Berlin government has once more understood that Germany is the linchpin on which hinges the EU coherence. Only this Monday the German Chancellor Angela Merkel and her government ally, the leader of the socialist SPD and Vice Chancellor Sigmar Gabriel, rebutted the break-up of the Schengen zone. They both denied the prospect of cutting Greece out of Schengen for two years, as the shortsighted four Visegard (Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland and Slovakia) central European countries want.

It’s true that the Greeks failed in every respect to control the inflow of refugees and migrants from Turkey to the Aegean islands. However, everybody understood the difficulty of turning overloaded dinghies back to the Turkish shores in the rough waters of the Aegean Sea. Of course, it was not only the rough seas that impeded the return of the refugees to Turkey.

Ankara has been bluntly denying accepting back the refugees it sends to Greece. At the beginning, the refugees from Syria were welcomed to the EU at least by the German industrialist. Naturally, this development further strengthened the flows. Despite all that, many EU countries have rushed to stigmatise only Greece for failing to protect the external borders of the Union.

Greece under pressure

Until last Monday Greece was rather certain to be cut off from the Schengen zone for at least two years. In this way Brussels would have destroyed the irrevocability of the Union. It seems though that this prospect has been avoided after the clear cut position of Berlin, despite the internal opposition the Merkel government is facing.

All in all, the Syrian question may evolve into a wider confrontation, because the war with proxies may develop into a direct conflict between the main parties involved. Obviously, the West and Russia are very careful not to be seen as seeking a direct confrontation, but their differences seem difficult to be bridged. The Kurds are also careful not to be seen as allies of the Moscow – Assad side and the same is true for Iran.

The losers risk a lot

Only Turkey and Saudi Arabia are not at all careful in vying to extinguish their opponents, the Kurds, Assad and all the Shia fighters under the banner of Hezbollah and other similar groups. Ankara and Riyadh, do not even care if their tactics strain their relations with the West, the US and Europe alike. In any case the Middle East, the Eastern Mediterranean and the entire Old Continent are currently under the spell of the Syrian conflict. Add to that the European political strains under the pressures of hundreds of thousands of refugees and immigrants and the picture of this part of the world gets quite alarming.

Alas, many of the hundreds of millions of all the above regions’ everyday people find it impossible to continue their lives as they knew, but this doesn’t seem to bother the Americans and the Russians, the main threads in the Syrian knot. By the same token, none would expect Riyadh, Ankara and Tehran to be intrigued by similar worries.

This leaves Brussels in a quite sorry position of having to cope with the side effects but not being able to decisively affect the causes.

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