As guns fall silent, Russia to shape Syria’s political endgame

Russian President Vladimir Putin (center), Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu (R) and Syrian President Bashar al-Assad visit the Hmeymim air base in Latakia Province, Syria, on December 11, 2017. Photo: Sputnik / Mikhail Klimentyev via Reuters

Russian President Vladimir Putin (center), Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu (R) and Syrian President Bashar al-Assad visit the Hmeymim air base in Latakia Province, Syria, on December 11, 2017. Photo: Sputnik / Mikhail Klimentyev via Reuters

As guns fall silent, Russia to shape Syria’s political endgame

Watch early in 2018 for peace talks in Sochi, focusing initially on drafting a new constitution that will be rubber-stamped at UN-mandated talks in Geneva

Many analysts predict that the upcoming year will witness a phased end to the Syrian conflict — at least, militarily. According to the Russian Ministry of Defense, 85% of Syrian territory has been liberated from ISIS and other groups that had controlled entire cities and towns since 2012. Aleppo was re-taken by the Russian and Syrian armies in December 2016, followed more recently by Albukamal and al-Mayadeen in the Syrian northeast.

In early December 2017, President Vladimir Putin landed in Syria and, from Russia’s military base in Hmeimeem, on the Syrian coast – he announced a thundering “mission accomplished,” promising to bring Russian troops back home in the weeks and months ahead. Excess troops that had been shipped to Syria in 2017 will be returning to Russia in the first weeks of 2018.

This will not apply to the 1,200 Russian military police deployed in the countryside of Aleppo and Damascus, or to the 1,000 troops monitoring the ceasefire in southern Syria. The Hmeimeem base will remain intact – it was leased to the Russians in January 2017 for 49 years, extendable for another 25.

Putin hopes that other stakeholders in the Syrian conflict – like Iran, Hezbollah, Turkey, and the United States – will take their cue from him and start evacuating soon.

Politically, Putin hopes to jumpstart peace talks at the Red Sea
resort of Sochi some time in January or February. Over 1,000 Syrians will be invited to attend a “national dialogue conference” hosted by the Russian Foreign Ministry, ahead of Russia’s presidential elections in March. They will be tasked with signing off an endgame to the Syrian conflict, in accordance Putin’s terms and conditions…...more here

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