The murder of the Russian ambassador Andrey Karlov in Ankara didn’t affect the Moscow summit this week. Opponents became allies, at least in their common interests. The gunshots on Monday killed a diplomat but did not dampen the cooperation between Turkey and Russia, who, along with Iran, agreed on a central point: The Syrian crisis should not be solved militarily but politically.
During the press conference following their meeting Tuesday, standing next to his Turkish and Iranian counterparts, Mevlut Cavusoglu and Mohammad Javad Zarif, the Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov announced: “We all agree that the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Syria must be respected. We also agree that there cannot be a military solution to the Syrian crisis. We believe that there is no alternative to a political solution of the conflict.”
Iran, Russia and Turkey, Lavrov added, “are ready to provide assistance in the preparation of an agreement between the Syrian government and the opposition and become the guarantors. Ministers agree on the importance of expanding the cease-fire, free access for humanitarian aid and civil movement in the Syrian territories.”
Three days ago, ahead of the Moscow meeting, Vladimir Putin and Iranian President Hassan Rouhani had expressed themselves in favor quick-start talks between the Syrian government and the opposition in Astana, the Kazakh capital. Also three days ago, the U.N. special envoy to Syria, Staffan De Mistura, had announced that the United Nations was hoping to organize negotiations between the Syrian government and the opposition on Feb. 8. Lavrov said there would be future meetings of the three countries but did not set a timeframe.
The territorial integrity of Syria is a sacrosanct principle but clashes with the actions and the policies of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who continues to operate against Damascus behind the scenes and lobs accusations at President Bashar al-Assad (supported by Moscow and Tehran). Ankara has created a buffer zone in northern Syria to fight the political ambitions of the Kurds and to give full support to the Syrian “rebels” whom it arms and trains.
On the ground in Syria, meanwhile, developments are ongoing. The evacuation from eastern Aleppo, over which the Syrian Army has regained control, continues and should be completed within days. The precise number of civilians is not yet known in the neighborhoods in which they barricaded the last rebels jihadists (which Damascus ordered to leave the city). Some say it’s a few thousand; others say 15,000.
Hundreds of humanitarian observers are expected to arrive soon, as stipulated in the Franco-Russian resolution adopted Tuesday night by the U.N. Security Council. They will have the task of monitoring the living conditions and the safety of civilians who remain in the eastern part of the city, which for four years has been in the hands of a coalition of groups led by jihadists from the Nusra Front (Al-Qaeda in Syria).
More than 100 officials and U.N. employees are already operating in Aleppo, and the observers will be joined by the International Committee of the Red Cross and the Syrian Red Crescent. The resolution demands that all parties allow the unconditional and immediate access to the U.N. to provide humanitarian and medical assistance, and “respect and protect all civilians throughout Aleppo and throughout Syria.”
On the sidelines of the vote, Syrian ambassador to the U.N. Bashar Jaafari said the Syrian opposition, with the help of observers, will attempt to smuggle out agents of foreign intelligence services found in eastern Aleppo. Al Jaafari delivered 14 names, including eight Saudis and one spy each from Turkey, the United States, Israel, Qatar, Jordan and Morocco. “We’re going to take them and I will show you,” he warned.
In addition to the evacuation of the militiamen jihadists and their families from eastern Aleppo, the evacuation continues of civilians from the Shiite villages of Foua and Kfarya, bombarded for years and kept under siege by “rebel” formations and to whom the media and Western governments have shown little interest. The recovery of eastern Aleppo seems to have sped up even the release of the “rebels” from the villages of Madaya and Zabadani, near the border with Lebanon.