Why Diplomacy Is Making It Difficult To Save Syria

Between two major conflicting viewpoints translated into projects, the first seeing Syria as no more than a pawn on the regional political chessboard, and the second envisaging any decisive Syrian victory in this prolonged war against rebels and terrorists will undoubtedly reshape the future of the whole region and forge its new alliances. The costly conflict in and on Syria lingers on, with no definite end in sight. The intertwining combination of conflicting regional and international agendas in Syria makes it extremely more difficult to resolve the crisis via international diplomacy.

Economic Hardship and Challenges

The 8 years of war effort have had an enormous impact on Syria’s economy as a result of sanctions, mismanagement and corruption. The systematic destruction of much of the infrastructure has imposed additional burdens to Syria’s economy which wasn’t particularly strong before the conflict anyway. Perhaps the country’s strongest points were the fact that it had no foreign debts whatsoever and the massive gas and oil reserves were discovered both in its land and on territorial waters on the Mediterranean.

The US-led embargo and sanctions have made a bad economic situation in Syria a lot worse. Syrian GDP depends mainly on four major sectors; oil, gas, tourism and farming. Most oil and gas fields and the majority of sways of Syria’s best farming and food basket areas in the north were and still are out of government control. Tourism, except for a modest seasonal internal activity was virtually annihilated. To add further economic hardships, much of the state-run as well as private sector’s once-flourishing industrial plants were completely wiped out or sabotaged to an unrecoverable state. The two main industrial cities of Sheikh Najjar, Aleppo, and Adra, near Damascus were worst hit with hundreds of millions of US dollars in losses. Main factory components including large power generators, transformers and other heavy machinery, were dismantled and smuggled across the borders, mainly to Turkey, and were sold for a minimal price.

Getting Erdogan Off the Tree

There is an almost unanimous conclusion that without Turkey and the role its AK party rulers have played in the Syrian crisis, much of the overwhelming destruction and bloodshed in Syria could have been avoided. Ankara has smuggled tens of thousands of the world’s most notorious terrorists and jihadists into Syria. Moreover, it opened training camps for militants on its soil, at least four known such facilities close to the Syrian borders, from the very beginning of the conflict in March 2011. This has not prevented the outcome of hostilities and their economic consequences from spilling out across the borders and hitting back at the Turkish economy itself. The Turkish national currency, the Lira, hit rock bottom levels during the past few years, and its money markets and economic boom suffered huge losses.

Getting Erdogan down from the Syria-related precarious tree became Russian president Putin’s prime challenge and strategic goal, through a chain of economic and political carrots. Moscow’s Turkish endeavour, in coordination with Syria’s staunchest ally Iran, intensified in particular following the failed coup attempt against Erdogan in 2016, and the shooting down of a Russian SU-24 jet over Syria in 2015, which brought the two nations, closer than ever maybe, to a direct military confrontation. Fences were later mended between Erdogan and Putin and frequent visits and summits became regular events.

Adana Agreement, Putin’s Magical Word

More recently, while considering the future of war-torn Syria, Russian President Vladimir Putin invoked the Adana agreement signed over two decades ago between Turkey and Syria. The interpretation of this major development depends very much on which side you are on. Putin rejects the newly announced joint US-Turkish “Safe Zone” in northeastern Syria, and has been vocal in his opposition to this “illegitimate” moves that violates international law, the UN Charter and undermines the collective effort to preserve the integrity of Syrian territories.

Ankara has repeatedly threatened to launch a unilateral military operation against the US-backed Kurdish PYD militia in the area, citing national security concern and combating terrorism as the reasons behind its intention. Trump quickly responded by threatening to take devastating economic measures against Turkey should this happen.  The two sides later agreed to jointly patrol the so-called safe zone and avoid any hostile activities against both Ankara and the Kurdish population along the borders.

Putin, however, had an ace up his sleeve, that responds to Turkish proclaimed concerns and thwart the US-Turkish sugar-coated invasion of a strategic part of Syria. Instead of a Safe Zone, the Russian leader rolled out an agreement signed in 1998 between Damascus and Ankara to reassure Turkey that Russia had understood its security concerns, while protecting the latter’s interests in blocking the U.S. from creating a permanent presence there. Putin produced the Adana Accord, named after the southern Turkish city where the pact was sealed some 20 years ago, to avert the threat of Turkey waging war on Syria for its hosting of Abdullah Ocalan, the now-jailed leader of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK).

With so many complications exasperated by intermingled and often conflicting regional as well as international agendas in Syria, seeing a light of hope at the end of a very long tunnel of sadness and sufferings by millions of Syrian victims of this global war, is becoming an extremely difficult mission to accomplish.