Desislava Pateva interviews sociologist Ivo Hristov on the occasion of the preliminary agreement between Russia and the US for a ceasefire in Syria, which should come into force on February 27, 2016
Originally appeared at A-specto, translated by Borislav exclusively for SouthFront
Mr. Hristov, after the successes of the Syrian government army and Russian airforce, their advance was halted by the armistice. Is this not a repeat of the situation in Donbas, where volunteers took the initiative in fighting with the Ukrainian army and then appeared the agreements “Minsk-1”, “Minsk-2”, etc. Time was given to the Ukrainian army to regroup, to obtain new weapons and to prepare itself for a possible subsequent attack. Who benefits from this truce?
First, we can’t make an analogous connection between what is happening in Syria and Ukraine. And second, there is one small detail, so small that many people do not notice it: in the case with Syria the world was 5 till 12 before a big war. The problem is not that there could have been a development of the successes of the forces of Bashar Assad supported by Russia, against various paramilitary or military units that are mobile proxy forces of Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Turkey. What could have happened there is a direct confrontation between Russia and the United States, including the use of nuclear weapons. I think this threat is still not past. Simply at 5 till 12, resulting from reason, an agreement was reached at the cost of huge compromises on both sides. Remember that because of this arrangement the circle around Barack Obama was attacked fiercely by quasi hawks and other groups in the United States. But, actually, both sides manifested common sense, that’s how I read it. There can be no case for yet “another betrayal” – in the good style of the more patriotic Russian press. The question is completely different – what caused the dramatic change in the Russian position concerning it’s direct entry into Syria, but this is a long conversation.
What do you think caused this reversal?
We can not know. We do not have information because what is said in official communications, is manipulative and absolutely insufficient. We do not know the true reasons why the Russian elite – the Kremlin and circles around Putin, took this step. I suspect this is some agreed action between a part of the American elite, and a part of the Russian elite. If you remember, there was a sudden visit of the Secretary of State Kerry in Sochi in May of last year, from which nothing came out as official information. He met with Putin and Lavrov, and then two things happened – freezing the conflict in Donbass, and a sharp increase in Russian military activity in Syria. Such a hypothesis could also be discussed.
There is a third thing that also must be said – there is a hypothesis that Russia at one point risked the conflicts in Syria and Ukraine to turn into a fierce war on two fronts, which could cost her future. These versions are both in the Western, and in the Russian press.
The agreement between the US and Russia for a ceasefire is related to the “moderate opposition” in Syria, but is does not concern actions against the Islamic state and the Syrian branch of “Al Qaeda” – “Al-Nusra Front.” How will the difference be made between jihadists and “moderate opposition” on the ground?
The differences are known. If you paid attention, among the elements of this agreement is a joint decision of the Russian-American Commission to carry out topographic designation of the area. That is, to mark which groups control what parts of the territory of Syria and if they are in the list of declared terrorist organizations by the United Nations, they will continue to be subjected to hits and liquidation – as for example Daesh al-Islam, the so-called “Islamic State” etc.
How would you comment on the concerns of some observers that the ceasefire could collapse if the Russians and Assad’s soldiers continue to strike in areas of moderate opposition under the pretext that they are fighting “Al-Nusra Front”?
With the same success we can discuss the reverse situation where the so-called “moderate opposition” continues to fire against pro-government forces or the Kurdish militia. In this way they could also violate the agreement. Of course, it’s a game on ice – the risk applies to both sides. The outcome of such a situation can be an even larger-scale conflict. Of course, we should not forget that the threat of a Turkish incursion into Syria is not over, though the huge loser in all of the Syrian crisis is exactly Turkey.
Do you think the Syrian army, Kurdish formations and Russian aviation will succeed to seal the Syrian-Turkish border and disrupt the supply of arms and ammunition from Turkey to the jihadists?
They have almost succeeded. With the exception of a corridor that is approximately 50-60 miles, known as the “Jihady Highway,” which is currently the great battle and that is important for Turkey. The Kurds and the Syrians are attempting to close this particular corridor, and that will interrupt the supply of both weapons and fighters from Turkish territory towards Aleppo. With this, completed will be not only the encirclement of Aleppo, but the pro-Turkish forces in the region of Idlib province, will be isolated. In this case, Turkey will be in a position of zugzwang, as they say in chess. That is, whatever action it takes will be wrong. If it decides on military aggression, it may cost the existence of Turkey in it’s current form. And if it can not find a course of action, that could still cost it the future and security of the state. Until recently, I could not imagine that the team of Erdogan and Davutoglu would able to achieve this in such a short time – to put a cross on it’s otherwise successful management over the past 15 years.
Turkey gains nothing and loses everything. It is the only big loser and not coincidentally the other day Erdogan made a hysterical statement accusing everyone else in the typical old communist model – that for their failures are to blame capitalism and the four seasons. In this case, to blame are Russia, the United States, the West, the East, the Kurds and whom ever else you can remember. Turkey did indeed the impossible – from a key player in the Syrian crisis, they are now an outsider.
Do you expect the Syrian Kurds to form the basis of independent Kurdistan, which would include Turkish territories?
The Iraqi Kurds will form the basis of an independent Kurdistan, as they have more than 20 years experience of independent life – military, financial, administrative. This thing with the Kurdish state, despite the claims of some the experts, is still too vague. There is no such thing as a common Kurdish entity, we are talking about certain state-like formations, social and ethnic groups that speak different dialects even within the general Kurdish linguistic group. But the great threat for Turkey is that once a continuous Kurdish zone in the southern border is created, it’s just a matter of time that Southeastern Anatolia blows up. As it’s happening now. In fact, Turkey is trying to play preventatively, but it’s playing in the most stupid way.
Do you think there are serious prerequisites for the truce to be respected, and accordingly to launch a peaceful political process in Syria?
I do not think that we will see a united Syrian state. Rather we are proceeding to a legalization and validation of the de facto division of the former Syrian state. Territories that are under the forces of Assad, will probably create a sort of confederation in the western part of the country. The eastern and northeastern parts will be probably in the zone of influence of the United States and their clientele below on the ground. Of course, one Syrian Kurdistan in the north will play the role of a loyal ally, but with it’s own interest.
What do you think of the intention of the European Union to allocate 1 billion euros to combat formations like the Islamic state. Can it be considered that the EU is a factor in the final resolution of the conflict?
The EU ceased to be anything, much less a factor. It was not, it is not and will not be. I’m not saying that the union will collapse or that the cataclysm will occur tomorrow, but the EU is not a single geopolitical entity and does not solve anything. It has neither the resources nor the vision and most of all – the united entity that turns a given thing into a geopolitical factor. Europe acts reactively rather than proactively.
Is it possible that the ceasefire, which comes after five years of civil war, will influence the reduction of migratory pressure?
The migration pressure on Europe has no direct connection with these events, despite what the media says. What do 5,000 Afghans on the Macedonian-Greek border, have to do with the war in Syria? Or say, the so-called Iraqi refugees, or the Pakistanis and people from North Africa? The migrant case is completely different, although in the context of blowing up of the Middle East it puts Europe in constant stress, which is unlikely to be a coincidence.