Vitaly Naumkin on Kurds, Turkey and constitutional committee in Syria

by RIA Novosti

At the end of last year, there was hope for the early start of the work of the Syrian constitutional committee, which would be the most important step towards a political settlement of the crisis in this country. However, this has not yet been achieved. Vitaly Naumkin, a former senior adviser to the special envoy of the UN secretary general for Syria, scientific director of the Institute of Oriental Studies of the Russian Academy of Sciences, explained why it happened, why the United States prevented the launch of the Syrian political process, said what Washington fears in the Middle East, and predicted further developments amid the withdrawal of American troops from Syria.

- You have long been an adviser to Staffan de Mistura, but he resigned as special envoy for Syria. Is there any prospect that you will remain an adviser to the new envoy?

- I have ended the contract with the UN, now there is no status. I am not even familiar with the new envoy, and I do not know what format of work he will have. I think he will focus on advisors from European countries. Will not invite either Russian or American. Invite, think.

- What is generally known about the new special envoy - Geir Pedersen? What is his reputation in diplomatic and expert circles?

- The reputation of a strong, tough diplomat with extensive experience in the Middle East. He worked in conflict points, knows the Middle East. And in Palestine, and in Lebanon worked. Belonging to Norwegian diplomacy is always a part of peacemaking initiatives. Norway is known as the initiator of many negotiation actions. We can recall, for example, the reconciliatory Israeli-Palestinian process in Oslo. He is also involved in this.

He is a man of Western culture in any case, a man of the West. Any special envoy has his own program of action, his own ideas about the beautiful, but he, first, reports to the UN Security Council, and most importantly - will act, like the former, in accordance with the instructions of UN Secretary-General António Guterres. Therefore, to exaggerate its independence should not be.

- In December there was a ministerial meeting in Geneva of the countries-guarantors of the peace process (Russia, Iran, Turkey) and de Mistura. Then they failed to agree on a part of the list of the constitutional committee - a source in the Russian delegation told RIA Novosti that de Mistura was not satisfied with the list submitted by the guarantor countries. What is the essence of these contradictions and will it be possible to overcome them with a new special envoy?

- Difficulties have arisen with the so-called list number 3, which will represent the civil society in the committee. The first list is the official Damascus, the second - the opposition. Turkey basically helped the opposition to present its list - list number 2.

Civil society, besides the UN, was mainly engaged in Russia and Damascus. First, the Syrian government rejected a significant part of the people whom de Mistura proposed: they were first made proposals to the guarantor countries in closed order in Sochi. However, Damascus categorically disagreed with the proposals of de Mistura.

And the opinion of the guarantor countries, in particular, Russia, a key settlement partner, is such that everything must be coordinated with Damascus. Damascus - the legitimate government. Without taking into account the views of Damascus, without relying on his proposals can not do anything.

Damascus were proposed other candidates, it was discussed with the guarantor countries. But mistrust arose between de Mistura and the Syrian government.

There was a difficult negotiation process. Delegations traveled here and there, there were contacts, negotiations. Consensus was reached between the Syrian government and the guarantor countries. With this list came the guarantors to Geneva. But some candidates did not arouse enthusiasm for the special envoy.

The essence of the disagreement is what the weight of the loyalists will be in this constitutional committee. Naturally, the government would like the absolute majority of the members of the constitutional committee to either represent the government or be loyal to it.

The UN proceeds from the assumption that everything must be decided taking into account the opinions of those who are not among the loyalists. But after all, there is already a “second list” and the opposition is present in the committee, so the battle for people in the list of civil society reflects disputes over who will have the predominant influence.

However, the point is not only in the composition of the committee. There is still debate about the modality of his work. How it will work, how decisions will be made - by consensus or not by consensus, by a majority or not by a majority. But I think that all problems can be solved and a constitutional committee will be created.

It is also obvious that behind the rejection of the proposals, which were agreed with Russia, Iran and Turkey, stands the desire of some of our Western partners, first of all the USA, to disrupt this process altogether. The United States fears that the success of the constitutional process and the fact that it will cause real progress in a political settlement will lead to even greater enhancement of Russia's prestige in the Middle East and in the international community. Therefore, there are attempts to disrupt the process, tighten it and show that the guarantor countries fail, Russia fails. Such attempts have always been made and continue to be made.

- What will happen next with this list? Will you manage to coordinate it with a new special envoy?

- As I have already said, any special envoy acts in accordance with the instructions of the UN Secretary-General António Gutteresh. In the United Nations, the influence of the Western powers, primarily the United States, is strong enough. This is a reality to be reckoned with.

One way or another, without taking into account Russia's opinion, no decisions will be made. I believe that they will agree. Damascus does not nominate officials in the list number 3. There are one or two people who held positions in the government. One was a minister, but he resigned from his post and will be present on the committee as a representative of civil society, as an individual. There should be lawyers, experts who understand the constitutional law. This is a piece of goods.

It should be borne in mind that a large part of Syrian society is in different positions than the government, and it must also be represented. There should be some professionals, including neutral ones.

- Are the first and second parts of the committee already formed?

- Yes, they were formed. Everything is clear with Damascus - there are no problems here. And in the summer, the opposition presented its list, but at the last round of negotiations, it expressed dissatisfaction with certain people in its own list. It is clear that some puppeteer pulls the strings to disrupt the process. They themselves gave the list, then began to say that something was not agreed. These attempts at failure will be repaid, but the process was delayed.

But this is a responsible matter, it requires the consent of the parties. Well, there will not be a committee now, it will be postponed for another couple of months - I don’t see this as a tragedy. It should be borne in mind that the situation on the ground is taking shape in favor of the government forces and Russia, which are interested in stabilization. The level of violence is much less, some problems are solved. A number of regional states are ready to consider the issue of participation in the reconstruction of Syria. Advances in the return of refugees have been noted, several tens of thousands have already returned.

It is going towards stabilization and the restoration of Damascus control over an ever-increasing territory.

- What, in fact, will the constitutional committee do after its formation?

- There must be serious reforms in Syria itself. It is clear that there can be no return to the situation before 2011. The government should understand this. There must be a new management system. Decentralization, more rights for the provinces, regardless of their ethnic composition, is a very serious matter.

- Does Damascus itself understand the impossibility of returning to the pre-war situation?

- I know Syrians well, they are very smart people. And smart people are sitting in Damascus. I think they understand it. With a complete restoration of those orders that were before the start of the conflict, can not be. The country is entering a post-conflict phase. The task of our Syrian friends is to prevent the resumption of again these fierce clashes with the opposition.

The crushing blows inflicted on the terrorists, and the armed opposition has lost its force. More and more people are prone to lay down their arms and move on to a peaceful life. The task is to manage the country differently. It is necessary to give more rights to the population, more rights to the regions, to take into account the presence of protest sentiments, which must somehow be extinguished. It is necessary to go towards these people, to provide some kind of freedom. Provide more open, transparent elections. Because the constitution will be followed by elections, which should be held in accordance with the new rules.

The Kurdish question is an important and difficult task for any government in Syria. Kurds today de facto in the north of Syria have their own system of government. This system does not like the Turkish partners and is not recognized by Damascus. This is a contradiction that must be somehow resolved. But for the Kurds, who are used to self-governing during these conflict years, it is already difficult to return to the system, when all decisions in one hundred percent were made in Damascus. They believe that they played a huge role - and this is true - in breaking the IS *. They believe that their rights should be recognized, give more opportunities for self-expression, self-determination within the framework of Syrian statehood. At the same time, there can be no talk of any separatism.

Russian proposals for a draft constitution contain an obvious idea of ​​decentralization in Syria. A completely new system of granting large rights to the provinces, regions, including taking into account the aspirations of the Syrian Kurds, who used to feel like a discriminated minority.

There remains a serious problem with Idlib, with the intentions of Turkey. Their presence in Syria, according to Damascus, is illegal - no one invited them to send troops, neither the UN Security Council, nor the Syrian government. Relations between Turkey and Syria are tense, the Syrians view the Turks as aggressors and occupiers. We have a slightly different point of view. Moscow presumes that their presence there is illegitimate, but Turkey has its own concerns, which need to be taken into account related to their national security. All the more so to us, as a power, friendly Turkey. Turkey for us is one of the priority partners in the Middle East.

In addition, their presence in Syria is dictated, as they say, by the need to fight terrorists. The third thing that is taken into account is that they view their presence as temporary and say that in the future they will leave Syria. They advocate a united and indivisible Syria. For the preservation of the sovereignty of Damascus over the entire Syrian territory.

Our understanding in relation to the temporary Turkish presence there is related to the fact that promises have been made that Turkey will once leave it, having completed the tasks that it considers necessary.

Nevertheless, Russia is at odds with Turkey in relation to the Kurdish national self-defense units YPG. We do not consider them as terrorist entities, but Turkey regards them as terrorists and considers them to be a force that undermines the national security of Turkey itself. There is a contradiction.

- How can the Kurdish problem be solved? Can autonomy be created along the lines of neighboring Iraqi Kurdistan?

- No, I think that the Syrian government will not do this. Moreover, there is a difference between Iraqi Kurdistan and Syrian. Iraqi Kurdistan - the territory of the compact residence of the Kurds. In the Syrian Kurdistan, there are far more non-Kurds. Kurds are mixed with Arabs, Turkomans, Assyrians. They themselves emphasize: united Syria is indisputable for us, and northern Syria is a multi-ethnic zone, everyone here has equal rights.

Kurdish autonomy may not accept the local Arab population. Even those who are in opposition to Damascus. In general, there are many Arab nationalists in the Syrian opposition.

Of course, there must be some kind of decentralization, the regions have more rights. And not among some Kurds, but as they themselves say - Kurds along with Arabs and other groups of the population. Local councils, the decision of questions on public utilities, roads, construction, health care. That can be decided at the level of local authorities. But Syria will never accept the fact that Kurdish militia units will have the right to carry weapons, like the Peshmerga in Iraqi Kurdistan, so I think this will be more limited autonomy, approved by Damascus. Such an idea was laid in the draft constitution, with which Russia spoke. But only Syrians themselves and their legitimate power can decide the fate of Syrian statehood.

- In December, information appeared that a delegation came to Moscow from Syrian Kurdistan. Did you happen to meet them?

- Purely met by chance.

- Mostly people associated with the YPG, with the people's self-defense units, with the self-government of Rozhava and the Democratic Union (PYD) party, which our Turkish friends consider a terrorist organization, and Russia does not consider them as such.

- Do you know if they had a meeting at the Foreign Ministry?

- Kurds represented in the lists of the constitutional committee?

- Kurds are generally represented everywhere. There are Kurds in the government list. There are Kurds in the opposition list, so the problem is not in Kurds in general, but in recognition of the largest party of Syrian Kurds - the Democratic Union Party, PYD. She is not on the lists of the constitutional committee, she was not in the negotiations in Geneva. And all the efforts to convince the Turkish partners to accept this party as the main representative of the Kurds of Northern Syria stumbled upon a complete rejection. Turkey does not want to put up with them, nor to negotiate, considering them enemies, terrorists.

- One could probably negotiate. And now, when the Americans left the Kurds, I think the Kurds will make some serious concessions to Damascus. They will move away from maximalist demands and negotiate. There is a chance.

- Taking into account all these contradictions in Syria, is a draft constitution possible that will suit everyone, including the Islamists of Idlib?

- Possible, why not. The constitution of 2012 is not at all bad. Another thing is that it was not sufficiently respected and needs at least changes - it is clear to everyone. Therefore, all agree on the need for a constitutional process. There is only disagreement about whether it should be a completely new constitution or be amended 2012 constitution.

There are states that are much more fragmented than Syria and live well within the constitution. And some without a constitution at all live - and also nothing, not a disaster. As for the groups in Idlib ... If you are talking about "Dzhebhat en-Nusra" *, then this group, according to international law, is recognized as terrorist. It is subject to liquidation. This does not mean that all thousands of militants must be killed, physically destroyed, they must be destroyed as an organization. Militants must be disarmed, prosecuted for their crimes and neutralized or destroyed.

By the way, Turkey was ready to fight only with the IS * some time ago, and “Dzhebhat an-Nusru” * avoided including them among its opponents. But then she equated "Dzhebhat an-Nusru" *, as the whole world community does, to the IG * and today expresses readiness to achieve the complete neutralization of this group.

- They will agree on a new constitution?

- Turks work with them. I think there is such hope. Tens of thousands of people - are you going to bomb them all in a row? They have families, children, women, old people.

- How will Trump’s decision to withdraw American soldiers from Syria affect the situation?

- We still do not know how it will be, whether it will be one hundred percent care or not. There is a very serious negotiation process on all tracks. Trump believes that he fulfilled the goal of eliminating the IG *. He believes that the task of overthrowing Assad is not facing America. Americans still believe that "Assad should go," but they will not be overthrown by force. But they still have the task of ousting Iran from Syria. And in this matter, they merge with Israel. But what they will do for this is unclear.

We also have serious differences with Israel, despite the fact that Israel has recently been our reliable partner. Relationships develop great, brilliantly. Contacts at the highest level. Works deconflicting. The parties inform each other about their future actions. Nevertheless, there is disagreement about the actions of Israel in Syria. Recently, Israeli planes, passing through the territory of Lebanon, hit the suburbs of Damascus, which, from our point of view, is unacceptable.

The strike is not inflicted on Syria, but on Iranian formations on the territory of Syria. This is not easier, especially since the Iranians are present in Syria legally, they were invited by the Syrian government. Their presence there is not a violation of international law. And what Israel does is a violation of international law, a violation of the sovereignty of the Syrian airspace. Israel believes that it has the right to defend itself by committing such actions. It is necessary to negotiate, therefore, apparently, the difficult diplomatic process will continue.

There are such nightmarish scenarios, one of which is based on suspicion of Trump that he will leave now, will bring all Americans out of Syria, and his allies will leave as well. And then someone again will make a provocation with chemical weapons, which Assad will attribute, and then the Americans will deliver a massive strike on targets in Syria itself. Maybe in an hour warning us that our advisers leave the territory of the command posts of the Syrian Defense Ministry and the place of deployment of large military units. Such suspicions exist in a number of experts. And all the talk is a cover, and the challenge is to strike at the Iranians. And, on the other hand, dump the government in Syria. But what will happen then? Chaos? What does Trump want? It is not clear.

- Is this scenario really fantastic?

- No, he is not really fantastic. Anything can happen. And who will take the place of Americans, it is difficult to say. Arab forces? I think the Syrian army, with the support of Russia, will do everything to put the territory east of the Euphrates under its control. It is very important economically.

* Terrorist groups banned in Russia

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