Interview conducted by Antoaneta Kiselincheva with profesor Dimitar Jonchev – national security expert and a professor at the New Bulgarian University.
Originally appeared at A-specto, translated by Borislav exclusively for SouthFront
What prompted Russia to abruptly pull its forces out of Syria? Can it be said that there were backstage negotiation processes, which we do not know about?
The first thing that should be noted is that the event was presented theatrically. We see that a maximum media effect was pursued. The second which is very important, is that the event happened at the beginning of the resuming of talks on Syria. And thirdly, as soon as the news was disseminated, President Putin had a conversation with the President of Syria. These are the obvious facts about the decision for the pull out of Russian forces from Syria.
Not excluded is that there may have been some consultations with the US, but beyond any doubt is that we are witnessing a decisive act, purposefully and vigorously undertaken by Russia. Withdrawal, as Putin said, will boost confidence among participants in the negotiation process. In a sense, it will contribute to the flexibility of negotiations. We know that the fundamental difference between the US position and that of Russia in the Syrian crisis, is the role of Assad in concluding the crisis. For the US, President Assad is unacceptable, for Russia he should be involved in the first phase of fixing the problem. The Russian military presence in Syria was a strong argument in support of President Assad, but the withdrawal, as if opens the door for discussion about this problem as well.
This is a strong political act. Literally until yesterday were raining accusations against Russia, that it wants to establish itself permanently in Syria, so as to prevent problems with its military presence there. The incident with the plane is interpreted as an attempt by Turkey to provoke Russia into a response that would allow Turkey to close the Straits and thus force Russia to stop its military presence in Syria. Few expected this move by Moscow and personally by President Vladimir Putin. You could say that he is the leader of the modern world, who currently demonstrates vigorous and constructive positions, as well as the will to implement them.
It seems to me that we should not overlook the fact that the Russian military presence in Syria was kept within reasonable limits, and stayed within the planned training funds of the Armed Forces of Russia. Among other things, the withdrawal of the Russian military contingent from Syria, frees resources to continue the preparation of the army on the territory of Russia.
Do you think that the withdrawal is part of a package deal between Russia and the US, which includes a conflict resolution in Ukraine? Is this possible?
Rather no, because at the big stage the geopolitical interplay of various important issues in a package is not a very good practice. We saw what a bad taste left such behavior on part of Turkey, which bonded artificially the problem of migration with that of EU membership. This is true especially when negotiating officially. On an informal level, its just the opposite. Not only is it possible, but it is reasonable to put all contentious issues, in order to fix the overall progress and to identify problem areas. The withdrawal from Syria is a sign that the world is not dealing with an aggressor when it comes to Russia. This will affect her image in Ukraine, but if we look at it diplomatically, there is no regular Russian army there, therefore there can not be a repeat of this strong gesture. Moreover, the tension in Ukraine remains a direct European problem whose solution affects deeply the relationships in the geopolitical triangle of the USA, Russia and the European Union.
It became clear that on the existing Russian bases at the airport Hmeymim, in Tartus and Latakia, will remain armed units of the Russian army. They remain to monitor the ceasefire or Russia, or to restore its military presence in Syria, the way it was years ago …
There is no doubt that the ceasefire should be under control. But it is also true that Russia is no longer in the position in which it was practically isolated from the Middle East. After the Suez Crisis of 1956 the US and the USSR pushed out the colonial states in the face of Britain and France, and founded a kind of neo-colonial control over the entire period of the Cold War. After the end of the Cold War, the redistribution of the world was not favorable for the Russian position in this region, and this partly explains the energetic actions of Russia’s intervention into Syria. At present, Russia retained its position in the Middle East, but it also gives a strong sign of good will for a comprehensive solution to the crisis.
Achieving a peaceful solution for Syria, in any version, is a prerequisite for stabilization of the region, although there is still a whole series of serious problems. The complete pacification of the Middle East will probably take decades.
Do you think that with the partial withdrawal of Russian forces from Syria, Turkey will finally able to realize its notorious (no fly) buffer zone, for which Turkey has long insisted?
The nightmare of Turkey is called the Kurdish state and such a buffer zone placed under international control with a strong Turkish participation, will, according to Turkish authorities greatly reduce the possibilities of a Kurdish state. The problem is that the tension in Turkey itself is constantly growing, as evidenced by the severe terrorist acts of the last half year. The Kurdish problem does not have a violent solution, even if that’s what the current Turkish leadership seeks. In the governing circles of Turkey, there is no option for a civilized solution to the Kurdish problem as it is not about a separate community of people, but about mutual ethnic, cultural and human relations that have evolved over the centuries. A split, even if clearly delineated, will never run a real border in Turkish society between Kurds and other citizens of Turkey. The crisis with the Kurds has a long-term nature.
Termination of the Russian military presence in Syria is changing only one of the factors of the crisis, but others remain, such as religious tensions, the US position regarding the Kurds and the overall future of Syria around which will ultimately concentrate the talks in the negotiation process.
Will the Syrian Kurds lose one of their main supporters in their opposition with Ankara (after Russia withdraws)?
Russia remains sensitive to this area and will likely continue to closely monitor developments there. The increase in tensions between Russia and Turkey after a successful period of economic warming did not appear accidentally. Turkey deliberately shot down the Russian aircraft and launched an aggressive media campaign to reduce and if possible neutralize Russia’s influence on the conflict in Syria with the sole desire to control the development of the Kurdish question. This is no longer a secret to anyone in the world. Syrian Kurds will have no direct military assistance from Russia, but will rely on it in the negotiation process and the behavior of the international community in the face of the next Turkish initiatives on the issue.
Will Syria split into three or four parts, as was said by many experts? How does this opportunity look after the withdrawal of Russia?
I think not only Syria but also Libya, and even other territories in the Middle East will reach equilibrium only if they are divided into separate state formations with varying degrees of sovereignty. The current state divide in the Middle East is the work of colonial empires, which placed borders not based on the residents and communities of people, but according colonial areas of influence. At times this process to such an extent shattered Arab communities, that in the area of the Maghreb countries emerged on the principle of which of the administrative institutions of colonial France dominated in the area. Thus on the map emerged countries like Morocco and Tunisia.
Its sad that this will not serve as a history lesson. Because even today, those on whom depends the future of the Middle East, are very far from forgetting about their geopolitical interests in the region and giving priority to the aspirations of the Arab communities living there.
With the withdrawal of Russia from the Syrian game, the military balance in the region dramatically changed. What do you think, will this encourage the intervention of Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Turkey in Syria?
In the current situation the Russian side considered that its withdrawal would bring more benefits than harm and undertook this move, on which again the stress is primarily in the field of politics. Elements of logistical support to the armed Russian forces that remain in their bases in the region, will continue. Hardly anyone doubts that, if necessary, such a contingent will reappear. The countries you mentioned have quite different relations with the United States. The objectives of these countries in Syria also diverge so a coordination of their actions to date is unlikely, especially in the event of a military invasion of Syria. The international community gradually matured to the idea that a lasting solution for peace in the Middle East and particularly in Syria is not possible, if by this decision are excluded these three countries and others in the region. That is why their participation is predictable, but hardly in the form of military aggression.