Russia, Turkey, and Iran are reportedly discussing splitting Syria into three autonomous sub-states in a final deal to end the ongoing Syrian civil war, Reuters reports.
The three sub-states would be regionally autonomous and nominally remain under the power of a federal administrative system. This federal system would retain Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad in the beginning, before a less divisive figure took the helm. Assad’s religious sect, Shiite Alawites, would remain in charge of the federal system and have their own zone of influence under the terms of the deal.
The Syrian proposal hearkens back to Vice President Joe Biden’s 2006 proposal to split Iraq into three autonomous sub-states in lieu of pursuing the 2007 troop surge. Biden termed the proposal, “Unity through Autonomy.”
“A final deal will be hard, but stances have shifted,” director general of the Russian International Affairs Council Andrey Kortunov told Reuters. Each of the three countries retains a large geopolitical stake in Syria’s future.
Turkey wants to deny Syria’s Kurdish minority a de-facto state on its border, whom they regard as an existential threat on the same level with the Islamic State. Iran wants to retain a friendly Shiite ally along its border, and remains invested in Assad’s leadership. Russia conversely backs Assad but ultimately wants to retain its basing rights in Syria, and broker a successful deal to signal leadership role in world affairs.
Russia’s current approach is to outline the basic plan in talks and then institute a Syria-wide ceasefire. After a ceasefire is fully in place, the U.S. and its Gulf-Arab allies would be brought into the negotiations to offer input. The lack of a U.S. role in the ceasefire or beginning framework of the talks is a significant embarrassment to the Obama administration.
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry repeatedly tried to get Russia and Syria to agree to a ceasefire, and a pathway to peace talks. At nearly every instance the peace process broke down, and both Russia and Syria continued their brutal campaign for the city of Aleppo. Aleppo, the largest city inside Syria, is now in the hands of the Assad regime and was a significant victory for Russian forces.
“It’s a very big prize for them if they can show they’re out there in front changing the world,” the UK’s former ambassador to Moscow told Reuters. “We’ve all grown used to the United States doing that and had rather forgotten that Russia used to play at the same level,” he continued.