Attempts to destroy the Syrian nationhood have not let up since March 2011, which means that they have now been going on for more than two and a half years. During this time, many tens of thousands of people have lost their lives (up to an estimated 100,000). Millions have become refugees; some of these are internal refugees who have been forced to flee their homes to escape the violence of anti-government armed groups who are particularly on the hunt for members of religious minorities – Arab Christians, Kurds and Armenians. Many are living in extremely difficult conditions and do not have enough to eat.
As a result of the pogrom actions of illegal armed groups terrorising parts of Syria, the country’s manufacturing infrastructure is being destroyed bit by bit. The crisis is being exacerbated by the sanctions that have been introduced against Syria by the US, a number of EU countries, Turkey and the monarchies of the Persian Gulf. The total amount of damage inflicted on Syria during the conflict equals nearly USD 100 million, and experts believe that rebuilding the country will take a minimum of 10 years.
Almost from the very beginning, the Syrian conflict was more than a local affair. The uncertainty of a number of socio-economic and political problems that had disgruntled parts of the population was skilfully exploited by external forces. They were able to stir up the internal Syrian conflict by financing and arming extremist groups and sending foreign mercenaries to Syria. The objective of these external forces was to overthrow Bashar al-Assad’s government, as well as fragment and destroy Syria as an ally of Iran and the Hezbollah movement. According to official figures, there are currently more than 1,000 anti-government armed groups operating in Syria. The total number of militants involved in these groups is more than 70,000. A significant number of these are foreign mercenaries from more than 80 countries around the world, including the United States, Europe, Central Asia, and areas of Russia’s Volga and North Caucasus regions.
Those supporting Syria’s “Jihadis” are not hiding the fact that they will continue to offer them their support. Saudi Arabia recently decided to allocate large amounts of money to train new Mujahideens to be sent to Syria. Also, based on statements by President Obama, it should be remembered that the United States’ planned military attack on Syria has not been cancelled, just postponed.
At the same time, an agreement in principle between Russia and the US on the need for a Geneva-2 conference is giving a certain amount of hope that a political settlement to the Syrian crisis can be found. Syria is scrupulously fulfilling all the conditions of the agreement to transfer its chemical weapons to the international community for destruction, which is confirmed by representatives of the international Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW). The Syrian government has repeatedly expressed its willingness to take part in a Geneva 2 conference, and Damascus’ constructive approach to the issue of a political settlement in Syria was confirmed in a telephone conversation between Bashar al-Assad and Vladimir Putin on 14 November 2013. The internal patriotic opposition is also willing to enter into a dialogue with the authorities. This part of the Syrian opposition is made up of Cooperation Committees, which include representatives from 13 parties; the National Front for Change and Liberation; the Coalition of Forces for Peaceful Change, which includes 16 parties; and movements expressing the interests of the Kurdish community. The Kurds have already formed their own local governments in the areas where they are living in northern Syria.
As far as the external Syrian opposition is concerned, which is represented by the National Coalition of Opposition and Revolutionary Forces (NCORF) and which the West was quick to recognise as the “only legitimate representative of the Syrian people”, it has declared its willingness to take part in a Geneva 2 conference on the one hand, but on the other hand has been setting forth conditions that are deliberately unacceptable to those taking part in the conference, demanding a deadline for al-Assad’s departure and the transfer of power.
The NCORF does not by any means represent all of the external opposition. There are a number of armed opposition groups who are continuing to carry out military actions both against the Syrian army and between themselves, whilst terrorising the local population. These include the Free Syrian Army (FSA), parts of which are now breaking off into those who are moving over to the side of government forces and those who are joining up with radical Islamists. The largest Islamist groups are the Nusra Front and the Islamic State of Syria, which are affiliated with al-Qaeda.
Reaching a political solution at the Geneva 2 conference (if it takes place) is a relatively complex issue. At the same time, if there is a political will – first and foremost on the part of the leaders of the major powers and regional centres of power – finding a solution to the Syrian crisis is entirely possible. The Russian Foreign Affairs Minister announced that “the Syrian external opposition should not be persuaded to sit down for talks, they should be forced to sit down”. But how to force them? By declaring through the UN that only those political forces who agree to stop fighting and start a national dialogue will be recognised as legitimate representatives of the Syrian people. By establishing a ceasefire that all sides must abide by. Those groups that refuse to abide by the ceasefire should be recognised – also through the UN – as terrorist organisations (the Nusra Front, incidentally, is already on the United States’ list of such organisations). In accordance with a UN resolution, international sanctions should be used against these terrorist organisations and their sponsors…
Bearing in mind Russia’s increasing role in the Middle East, Russian diplomacy may well play a leading role in settling the Syrian crisis, especially since the crisis has already had a direct impact on Russia’s national security interests.