Al-Monitor has provided unmatched reporting and analysis of Russian diplomacy to prevent an escalation between Syria and Turkey over Syrian plans to retake Idlib and on the Russian efforts to broker an arrangement between Damascus and the Syrian Kurds that would ultimately mitigate Ankara’s concerns.
“For the reconstruction of Aleppo, Ankara relies on its negotiations with Russia,” adds Tastekin. “An operation in Idlib and potential withdrawal of Turkish troops from there may well determine the outcome of those negotiations. Ankara hopes that an agreement with Russia on these two issues may overcome the reluctance of Damascus to deal with Turkey. … If the Idlib operation is completed as foreseen and the Kurdish-Damascus dialogue produces positive results, the reconstruction issue will become much more prominent. Although political normalization may take longer, practical cooperation models on the ground are possible.”
Saudi Arabia's role
Because Russia, Syria and Turkey will ultimately be the deal makers or breakers of stabilization in northeast Syria, the US decision to cut aid could nonetheless allow Saudi Arabia a second wind for its flagging Syrian policies. The preferred Saudi local partners in Syria have been the Jaish al-Islam and Ahrar al-Sham armed groups. Despite their public relations makeovers in recent years, and their undistinguished lumping by most media with any and all Syrian “rebels,” both groups are unabashedly Salafi and deeply sectarian proponents of Islamic law. Jaish al-Islam has been accused of torture, filmed executions and use of human shields and chlorine gas. This column has for years called out the mainstreaming of Ahrar al-Sham, which has been an on-again, off again partner with Jabhat al-Nusra and affiliated groups in Syria, and has been accused by Amnesty International and others of war crimes.
And Riyadh is hardly on a roll in the region. “Erratic diplomacy,” Bruce Riedel explains, “is hurting the kingdom.”
“The first tough decision of the new [Saudi] leadership is still their worst, to intervene in the Yemeni civil war. … Operation Decisive Storm turned into the world’s worst humanitarian catastrophe of our times. The Saudi bombing of a school bus this week is symptomatic of the Saudi coalition’s difficulties in avoiding civilian casualties in launching airstrikes against targets in a poor, backward country. …Two American presidents have colluded in the war, providing political and military support for the Saudi coalition — a black mark on our country. So has the United Kingdom. The war has no end in sight, and the total collapse of the poorest nation in the Arab world is an increasingly likely outcome, according to the United Nations,” Riedel writes.
With regard to Qatar, Riedel continues, “As in Yemen, the Saudi leadership had no concept of how to implement its decision; Riyadh and its allies had a goal but no serious scheme to achieve it. Some reliable evidence suggest that they were planning a military invasion of Qatar but US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson vetoed the plan (probably without President Donald Trump’s knowledge).”
While the kingdom’s relationship with the White House appears strong, Riedel writes, “Congress, on the other hand, is turning against the kingdom, as is the press and the public. [Saudi Crown Prince] Mohammed [bin Salman] is increasingly seen as an autocrat who can't tolerate any dissent, rather than as a modernizer opening up the country. Criticism and dissent is not tolerated, even if it is the dissenting opinion of women who fought for the right to drive in the only country in the world that ever made driving a gender-based issue. ... Foreign direct investment in the kingdom dropped 80% from over $7 billion in 2016 to $1.4 billion in 2017, according to the United Nations, and down from over $12 billion when King Abdullah was still on the throne. Jordan and Oman each attracted more foreign investment last year than Saudi Arabia. The number of companies also fell significantly. Concerns about the rule of law and arbitrary detention are also encouraging capital flight. … The Saudis have gotten little concrete support from their Arab allies in the Canada boycott.”