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Setting up Syrian de-escalation zones with US, Russian support futile, expert believes

An expert believes establishing de-escalation zones throughout Syria is currently impossible

WASHINGTON, February 27. /TASS/. The establishment of de-escalation zones on the whole territory or in some parts of Syria is currently impossible, but is possible in theory, said Vitaly Naumkin, the Academic Director of the Institute of Oriental Studies (part of the Russian Academy of Sciences), answering a TASS question after delivering a speech in the Center for Eurasian, Russian and East European Studies (CERES) at Georgetown University.

"Regarding the current state of relations between Russia and the United States, I believe it’s impossible," he said when asked about whether the de-escalation zone in southwestern Syria could be extended to cover the republic’s whole territory or most of it with support from the US and Russia.

"We currently have strained relations, and there is too much misunderstanding," Naumkin explained, reiterating that Russia has been criticizing the United States for its unpredictability. He named "the puzzling strive [of the US] to establish a quasi-state in the north, as [Russian Foreign Minister] Sergey Lavrov often says" as the key problem.

The Americans will establish a zone of influence

"This really is so, because there is trade between the US and Turkey and between the US and the powers they support for the territories," the expert stressed.

He reiterated that the Americans state they are controlling over 30% of the territory, some oil regions and most part of the population. Naumkin said it is "hard to understand" how the US can be "establishing some zone of influence" in Syria that it is controlling itself. "This way cannot lead to any important agreements with Russia," the academic director highlighted. He noted that the Arab republic "has a legitimate government in general, whether one likes it or not, there are the UN resolutions, and the negotiation process should be developed."

Still, the expert believes that "expanding experience by including some other areas in this zone [of de-escalation in southwestern Syria]" is "possible in theory" and "may be desirable." "Still, there are other players here, and it is very hard to reach agreements without regard to the interests of Turkey in the north, for example. Iran also has positions in the country: Syria, the Syrian government needs it. And, of course, the political process should be advanced," Naumkin concluded.

In July 2017, Russia, Jordan and the US agreed to create a de-escalation zone in southwestern Syria which included the country’s three southernmost provinces: the Daraa, Quneitra and Al-Suwayda Governorates.

Astana process

Allegations by the US Department of State of the failure of the Astana process on the settlement in Syria are part of an information war, he went on. 

The US statements about the Astana process failure "are definitely part of an information war," the expert noted. "It has not failed, and there will be a new meeting in Astana in March; I am confident that it will be constructive, because it has a broad agenda," he explained.

According to Naumkin, the statements made by Heather Nauert, the spokesperson for the United States Department of State, about the failure of the Astana process are "part of a larger campaign that was launched against Syria and Russia accusing" both countries of the situation in Eastern Ghouta. "Nothing was said about the US’ obvious unwillingness to fight with Jabhat al-Nusra and turning a blind eye to constant shelling of Damascus residential quarters by militants from Ghouta, which cause civilian deaths. Even the Russian embassy and other facilities came under attack," the expert stressed.

He noted that "the Syrian government is tired of having to put up with it." "How it should be done is quite another thing. And if we [Russia] were in one, let’s say, trench with the Americans and shaped some sort of a strategy - at least to make the militants end hostilities - this would have saved the lives of many thousands of people, I believe," Naumkin concluded.

The first round of talks on Syria in Astana was held on January 23-24 last year. It prompted the establishment of moderate armed opposition groups capable of conducting negotiations with Syria’s authorities. Russia, Turkey and Iran agreed to create a three-lateral operative group to control the ceasefire in the country.

Eastern Ghouta, which is controlled by the militants and besieged by the government forces, is on the list of the de-escalation zones established pursuant to the agreement of May 4 last year between the security underwriters in Syria: Russia, Iran and Turkey. UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres called for immediate ceasefire in Eastern Ghouta to provide humanitarian help to the population and evacuate the injured.