ISTANBUL: Russia, Turkey and Iran have reaffirmed their “strong and continued commitment to the sovereignty, independence, unity and territorial integrity of the Syrian Arab Republic”.
The three nations issued the statement giving their support after the Astana summit on Dec. 21-23.
As the Russian Foreign Ministry is currently preparing a list of participants to attend a peace congress in Sochi on Jan. 29-30, it also stated that the congress would not be a platform for those wanting the removal of Syrian President Bashar Assad.
The list is reportedly being prepared by taking into account the positions of the guarantor countries of the Astana peace process, i.e. Russia, Turkey and Iran.
Russian President Vladimir Putin’s special envoy to Syria, Aleksandr Lavrentiev, said that if the opposition intends to attend the Sochi Congress to prioritise its insistence on Assad leaving power, then there is no place for it there.
For experts, the removal of the Assad regime is no longer a priority for Turkey considering the latest developments on the ground, but Ankara is trying to handle this delicate process through the transition process.
Serhat Erkmen, a Middle East expert at the Ankara-based 21st Century Turkey Institute, said that for a while now Turkey has not been insistent on Assad removal’s from power.
“At the rhetorical level, Ankara didn’t give up from its objective of leadership change. But, considering the actions in Syria, Assad might act as a counterweight to the People’s Protection Units (YPG) considered by Turkey as a terrorist group,” Erkmen told Arab News.
Assad recently showed a harsh reaction against the YPG and considered them “traitors”.
“But currently Ankara negotiates indirectly with the representatives of the Assad regime during Astana meetings,” Erkmen said.
Mete Sohtaoglu, an Istanbul-based researcher on Middle East politics, thinks that Turkey is no longer insisting on the Assad’s removal from power.
“Ankara is planning to remove Assad in an official manner through ballot boxes in and out of Syria, which will be monitored by the United Nations,” he told Arab News.
However, Bora Bayraktar, a Middle East expert from Istanbul Kultur University, said: “Turkey actually did not soften its stance or step back in its rhetoric regarding Assad regime.
“Ankara understood the reality in Syria and changed its priorities,” Bayraktar told Arab News.
“Turkey is trying to solve the regime problem in Syria through the transition process. It doesn’t have a policy of actively pursuing Assad’s removal from power. It supports the opposition and the drafting of the new constitution,” he added.
For Ankara, Bayraktar said, the priority now is its border security and resolving the issue of YPG and its political wing PYD which is seen as a direct threat to territorial integrity due to their links with the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK).
As a concession to Ankara, the PYD will reportedly not be invited to the Sochi Congress, but to ensure a broader representation ahead of the political settlement in Syria, other Kurdish representatives will be present.