The two sides on the battlefield use military means to impose their will at an eventual negotiating table. Are these mere threats, or is military solution to the conflict imaginable?
It is a difficult question: No defined coalitions are currently working on the ground. On the government side, Russia, Syria, Iran and Hezbollah have common positions but different opinions: Damascus is opposed to any political process because it knows that the start of a transition will mark the end of the regime; Moscow, on the contrary, would like to see moderate elements of the opposition participating in a unitary government.
If you look on the other front, the U.S. has agreed on broad terms of the Russian agenda, but other players are determined to eliminate Assad at all costs. This is reflected at the negotiating table: In recent months, Moscow and Damascus have taken advantage of the advances on the ground to influence the dialogue. If the risk of a real collision is not likely, it is still possible for a number of reasons. First of all, the role of Turkey and Saudi Arabia.
And now we come to Turkey: Ankara is attacking the YPG, America’s allies against ISIS, and is threatening to begin ground operations. Is Prime Minister Erdogan a loose cannon, or is he moved by the interests of NATO?
The Kurds play an increasingly important role in northern Syria and Turkey, in addition to its opposition policy against Assad. Erdogan sees this expansion as a direct threat. There are so many local, regional and international interests at stake creating internal conflicts. Also within NATO, two of its members, Turkey and the U.S., which publicly say they are pursuing the same end, support local proxy organizations in conflict with each other: Jaysh al-Fatah, supported by the Turks, and the YPG, supported by the Americans. On the other side on opposite fronts, there are the U.S. and Russia, which seem to have incompatible agendas in Syria. Both are supporting Kurdish forces.
The Saudis also threaten interventions, but they are in a position of economic and diplomatic weakness.
The Saudis suffer from a sense of abandonment, particularly by the United States, following the agreement on the Iranian nuclear issue. They must prove their own credibility and push for action to save themselves from oblivion. By bringing together these elements, the Russian-Turkish conflict and the rivalry between Iran and Saudi Arabia, it is conceivable that — accidentally or deliberately — they’ll come to a direct confrontation. It is true, however, that in the last five years, every time one party has made a provocation, the other side has not reacted.