New: ECLECTIC RANT: Syrian war winding down — what’s next?

Ralph E. Stone
Thursday November 30, 2017 - 03:34:00 PM

On November 22, 2017, Russia’s President Vladimir Putin won the backing of Turkey and Iran to host a Syrian peace congress in the Russian Black Sea resort of Sochi. The Sochi announcement also came a few days after Putin met with President Bashar al-Assad of Syria, an indication that Assad had agreed to the idea.  

Thus, Russia appears to be taking the central role in a major diplomatic push to finally end the seven-year civil war all but won by Assad with Russia's backing. Syrian forces have reclaimed most of the country from Islamist militants and insurgents who had sought to topple Assad, including rebel groups backed by the U.S. and some of its allies. 

In October 2014, the Islamic State (IS), formerly ISIS, territory in Syria and Iraq was at its maximum. The radical Islamist group controlled land stretching from central Syria all the way to the outskirts of Baghdad including major cities like Mosul, Fallujah, Tikrit, and Raqqa. By October 2017, the group has lost all of its major urban strongholds and is now confined to the sparsely-inhabited border territories between Iraq and Syria. 

Remember, in 2015, Putin directed Russia’s air force to intervene on the side of Assad in 2015, likely saving the government from collapse when it appeared rebels would threaten the capital. Russia remains a key sponsor of the Syrian government and has shielded it against sanctions and punitive resolutions in the U.N. Security Council.  

Meanwhile, on November 29, the UN will hold a new round of peace talks in Geneva. The Sochi peace congress, if it happens, will likely supersede any UN peace talks. 

The total death count in the Syrian war is more than 480,000 and the number of refugees who have fled the war in Syria now exceeds five million with millions more displaced internally.  

Syria's total economic losses so far are calculated at around $226 billion. The effects of the war will be felt for decades. It is estimated that even if the war ended now it would take 10 to 15 years for Syria’s per capita gross domestic product (GDP) -- one of the primary indicators used to gauge the health of a country's economy -- to return to pre-conflict levels. 

After the Syrian war, Russia and Iran will have an enhanced presence in Syria and the Middle East. Iran has already signed large economic contracts with Syria, lucrative rewards for helping Assad in his fight against rebel groups and IS. 

It is unclear, however, what any peace agreement would look like. Ideally, it would call for a new constitution, U.N.-supervised elections, and transparent and accountable governance. Of course, the U.S. and the rebel groups want Assad out. But it looks like Russia will be the likely kingmaker and I bet when the dust settles, Assad will still be in control with continued Russian backing, and the U.S. and the rebel groups largely left on the sidelines. 

Stay tuned.