Will peace get a chance in Syria?

The two-day Syria peace talks in Astana ended without a major breakthrough. Russia, Turkey and Iran will try to strengthen the fragile ceasefire, it says in the final declaration. The talks are to be resumed at the start of February in Geneva. Commentators explain which basic conditions they consider necessary to find a solution to the Syrian conflict.

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Helsingin Sanomat (FI) /

Direct talks between warring parties needed

Helsingin Sanomat explains what needs to be done differently in Geneva than in Astana:

“The general context in which [this week's conference] took place was already challenging. The rebels didn't agree to direct talks with the government because the government troops and their allies, Iran's Shiite militia, were continuing to bombard territory controlled by the rebels. … Russia is trying to make the transition from participant in the war to peacemaker. The rebels will rightly be sceptical about Russia's intentions as long as the country supports the Syrian government militarily. … The peace talks are to resume in February in Geneva with the UN as mediator. Hopefully the warring parties will at least be willing to sit down at the same table. By doing so they would assume more responsibility for the outcome and could see it as their own rather than something dictated by external forces.”

Daily Sabah (TR) /

Trump must end support for the Kurds

Astana was an important step towards finding a solution in Syria, but now Washington must end its alliance with the Kurdish PYD, the pro-government Daily Sabah stresses:

“Just like Daesh, the PKK and PYD also kill civilians, imprison Kurds who are not party members, use child warriors and establish cantons in violation of the territorial integrity of Syria. Therefore, if we are to mention the 'globally recognized sovereignty' of the Syrian people, the PYD and YPG, which have resorted to violent practices, going as far as genocide to manipulate the demographic structure of the region, should be formally mentioned. In this regard, we are watching with curiosity the fate of the PYD and YPG, which operated with the overt political and logistical support of the Obama administration, in the new Donald Trump era. If Trump does not make Obama's mistakes and acts in unison with the U.S.'s half-century-old allies, instead of terrorists, in the Middle East as he vowed in the election period, all parties will win.”

Il Sole 24 Ore (IT) /

Moscow as mediator in the Muslim world

The Russian government is increasingly playing the role of mediator between Sunnis and Shiites, Il Sole 24 ore comments:

“Putin's Russia was accorded a lot of respect in the Syria talks in Astana, even by the Islamist groups that were defeated as a result of Moscow's intervention on behalf of Assad in the Syrian war. The Islamists are hoping that Russia will assume the role of guarantor vis-à-vis Assad and his ally Iran. … Because Iran is the real winner of this proxy war against Assad which was instigated by Turkey's Sunni front and the Gulf monarchies but was above all directed against the influence of the Shiite Islamic Republic of Iran in the region. Russia has repositioned itself in Astana, even though it continues to support Assad, by trying to secure compromises for the Sunni world. The Russians already have al-Sisi's Egypt on their side but they also want good relations with the Gulf monarchies.”

Le Monde (FR) /

Support Russia's initiative

Moscow's diplomatic initiative holds out the prospect of a solution to the Syria conflict, Le Monde comments:

“After the summit in Astana, which was dominated by military issues, the task in Geneva in February will be even more difficult. At the top of the agenda will be the question of a division of power and the political transition process, which the Syrian regime roundly rejects. The West and the Arab countries, which were overtly banished to the sidelines at the meeting in Astana, must now support Moscow in its diplomatic efforts, which for the moment seem less unequivocal and less brutal than its military intervention. It is time to put aside the divisions of the past and stop the Syrian regime from once again sabotaging any chance of a solution to the conflict by playing the various parties off against each other.”

Deutschlandfunk (DE) /

It all depends on Putin

Whether the way is opened in Astana for an end to the Syrian war lies in Putin's hands, Deutschlandfunk concludes:

“It was because of him that the opposition's attempt to overthrow Assad through military force failed. ... Putin doesn't particularly like the man personally but the Kremlin chief wants to save Assad's regime - to keep Syria as a Russian ally in the Middle East. But because Russia's military operations in Syria are extremely costly Putin seems to be seeking a political solution to end the conflict. … Putin wants the talks to strengthen the fragile ceasefire. This would facilitate the resumption of political negotiations next month in Geneva under the auspices of the United Nations. … So he must make sure that Assad adheres to the ceasefire more than he has done so far. Putin has the clout to do this - because without the support of Russia and other foreign powers it would all be over for Assad very quickly.”

Salzburger Nachrichten (AT) /

A tiny glimmer of hope

The conditions in which the conference is taking place are far from favourable yet the Salzburger Nachrichten newspaper still has hopes that some good will come of it:

“Several rebel groups are not attending, the belligerent Kurdish militia are not participating because of Turkey, the Iranians don't want any US negotiators there, but the US didn't want to take part anyway. … There's a confusion of parallel, overlapping and conflicting interests. Ankara wants to establish itself as a regional power without which Europe can't solve its refugee problems. Russia wants above all to impress Donald Trump - and finally be rid of the Ukraine sanctions. This round of negotiations is brimming with ambitions, contradictions and gaps. But if it produces a stable ceasefire Astana will have achieved more than all the Syria peace talks that preceded it.”

Savon Sanomat (FI) /

No peace without trust

The top priority in Astana is to establish a basis of trust, Savon Sanomat explains:

“In the current talks the main and in practice the only goal is a ceasefire. The real peace talks will be resumed in February in Geneva. … Trust is indispensable on the path to peace and it isn't created by talk alone. It takes honest deeds, giving things up in the other side's favour. The concerns that the government's experienced negotiators will get the inexperienced rebel leaders to accept a bad deal are a sign of deep distrust. There are rumours that an agreement is being prepared that would see Syria divided into unofficial zones of influence. This could be a first step towards establishing trust, but it won't bring lasting peace to Syria.”