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Syria and The New Regional Borders of Influence

Octavia Nasr

(Annahar) – After hosting Iran’s nuclear talks, Switzerland readies itself to serve as the main ground for Syria’s fresh round of UN-sponsored talks. Russia has just announced that it will be participating in the May 14 consultaions in the capital Geneva. The consultations will involve the Assad government, Syrian opposition, and other regional powers including Iran.

Now that all the major players have flexed their military and political muscles to an extreme, new power borders are being redrawn in the Middle East region. A defiant Russia in the face of international pressure, criticism and threats, happens to be one of the major beneficiaries of the latest deals and agreements. With that in the backdrop, Moscow seems keen on speeding up the diplomacy to find a solution to the embarrassing situation its ally Bashar al-Assad finds himself in. Four years of war, 220,000 people killed, 4 million refugees and 7.6 estimated displaced. Not to mention the rise and exacerbation of the Islamic State and Al-Nusra and the blunt build-up of Hezbollah militants as they got involved in the conflict.

Russia and China have used their veto power at the UN Security Council to prevent international sanctions against Syria and to prevent referring Assad to the ICC (International criminal Court) for suspected crimes against humanity. Moscow has expressed its hope for a political settlement although it is unclear what such a “settlement” would look like or at what price.

In the game of politics nothing has been logical of late. Only the language of threat, defiance and unilateral actions has been successful in any talks from Iran, to Yemen. The fact that Russia has announced its participation at the upcoming “consultations” is perhaps indicative of the likely results.

The shuttle diplomacy by the UN envoy to Syria, Staffan de Mistura, in the coming weeks might also indicate who the significant players at the upcoming talks will be.

A few things are certain. Iran and Russia will play a major role in the consultations leading up to the talks as well as at the talks themselves. They will have to sign off on any agreement that will be reached. While this means that the Assad regime will certainly get the lion’s share of any agreement, it is questionable whether Assad himself will survive this impasse.

Either way, the fact that Assad’s allies have an upper hand at the consultations and the UN Security Council, will ensure he either remains in power, albeit weakened, or he gets an honorable exit.

If the borders of power and influence in the Middle East are being redrawn, a Syrian agreement of any sorts will be the territory upon which those new borders are likely to unfold first.

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