The UN Security Council’s resolution on settling the Syrian conflict, although it does not guarantee the immediate cessation of hostilities, urges the countries affiliated with the International Syria Support Group to be allies and act in concert for the sake of a political settlement, polled analysts have told TASS.
On December 19 the UN Security Council unanimously voted for resolution 2254 in support of a peace settlement of the conflict in Syria. Under the resolution the United Nations undertakes to arrange for negotiations between Damascus and the opposition, which may begin in January 2016. Over a period of six months an interim government is to be created in Syria. The new administration is to represent all factions of Syria’s society. According to the plan free elections in the country are to take place within eighteen months under the aegis of the United Nations and in compliance with international standards.
The head of the International Security Centre at the Russian Academy of Sciences’ institute of the world economy and international relations IMEMO, Aleksey Arbatov, believes the resolution is “light at the end of the tunnel.”
“True, it is going to be a long and intricate process, but the first step forward has been taken,” Arbatov said.
He believes it is “symbolically important” the UN Security Council’s resolution was adopted unanimously. “This means that Russia and the United States, and in the broader context, Russia and the West are becoming allies in the Syrian settlement process. Russia and the United States played the key role in the Vienna process, which brought together the 18th countries of the International Syria Support Group. Moscow and Washington take the credit for the adoption of this most important UN Security Council on the basis of agreements achieved by the Vienna process member countries,” Arbatov told TASS.
He is certain that common efforts along the Syrian settlement track have changed the tone of Russia-US contacts at the summit level.
“No dramatic turn in bilateral relations can be seen yet, but a positive shift is obvious,” he said.
The political future of Syria’s President Bashar Assad remains the stumbling block in relations between Russia and Iran, on the one hand, and the Western countries on the other. “Although his name is absent from the UN SC resolution, Assad’s opponents claim that his resignation has no alternative. For the Western countries and also for Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Turkey Assad’s resignation and non-participation in future elections are beyond doubt. So disagreements remain. The sole change is the West no longer puts forward Assad’s resignation as a precondition for the beginning of political negotiations,” Arbatov said.
“As far as elections in Syria are concerned, their organization looks quite a problem. More than half of the country’s territory has been captured by Islamic State terrorists. First, armistice is to be concluded between the oppositional Free Syrian Army and Bashar Assad’s government troops. But even after ceasefire has been achieved the Islamic State factor and ‘no man’s’ provinces call in question the possibility of holding full-fledged elections,” Arbatov warns.
The leading research fellow at the IMEMO institute and the Institute of Oriental Studies under the Russian Academy of Sciences, Stanislav Ivanov, agrees.
“Syria, established as a state by France under a League of Nations’ mandate in 1920, has been split along ethnic and religious lines into several warring enclaves, which will find it rather hard to agree on Syria’s future system. Over 2011-2015 the civil war has claimed more than four million Syrian lives. Refugees and internally displaced persons have climbed to above ten million. At the beginning of hostilities the country had had a population of 23 million. The current situation is sheer disaster!”
Ivanov believes that external intervention merely pours more oil onto the fire of the Syrian crisis. “Government troops enjoy the backing of militants from Lebanon’s Shiite group Hezbollah, Iranian military and volunteers from Iraq’s Shiite militias. The armed opposition and radical Islamist groups have been supported by Lebanon’s Sunnis, the monarchies of the Persian Gulf, Jordan and Turkey. When Russia’s air group intervened in the struggle with the Islamic State and other terrorist groups in Syria, it stabilized the situation somewhat and in fact prevented Damascus from falling to the terrorists’ hands.”
“Prolonged hostilities have bled the government army white. It has lost half of the original strength due to desertion. At the moment it numbers a little more than one hundred thousand. It its current shape Syrian government troops are hardly capable of conducting large-scale offensive operations and keeping the recaptured territories under their control,” Ivanov said.
“Neither Islamic State militants, nor the field commanders of tens of other groups are going to stop fighting. None of them will be invited to the negotiating table for obvious reasons. Obstructions to implementing the extremely important resolution of the UN Security Council on Syria are too numerous to count,” he concluded.