By Serkan Demirtas
October 27 2018
The leaders of Turkey, Russia, France and Germany will come together in a first-of-its-kind summit in Istanbul to extensively discuss the state of affairs in Syria and projections for a future political settlement.
President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has long been seeking to hold this summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Emmanuel Macron in a bid to expand the scope of the Turkish-Russian initiative in regards to Syria.
Turkey and Russia are co-founders of the Astana Process, while Germany and France are part of the recently established Small Group by the United States. This formation by four countries could, therefore, also be regarded as a new bond between different international mechanisms tasked to permanently resolve the Syrian question.
However, it’s not yet certain whether or not this quartet will turn into a new mechanism with regular meetings in the future. A joint communiqué to be released after the summit will not only unveil on what issues these four countries do agree and disagree over Syria but will also respond to all pending questions about whether or not this is an ad hoc gathering.
Atop the issues to be elaborated at the summit is the situation in Idlib. A Turkish-Russian agreement signed on Sept. 17 has prevented an all-out military offensive by the Syrian army into the province, which still shelters sizeable armed radical groups. Turkey and Russia have taken the control in the field to ensure the continuity of the cease-fire and are expected to establish a joint military command in the province to monitor the developments.
As a matter of fact, such a summit could not take place if this deal would not have been brokered and the Syrian army launched a military offensive into the enclave at the expense of creating a new humanitarian disaster and sparking new refugee inflows. With the bitter memories of massive refugee inflows towards the European continent still fresh, Germany and France are particularly prioritizing the continuation of the cease-fire in Idlib.
The leaders will also discuss how to coordinate efforts to give a momentum to talks for a political settlement in Syria. U.N.’s special representative Staffan de Mistura, who announced that he will leave his post in November, has long been pressing on Damascus and the opposition groups so that the constitutional committee could finally be set and works for a new Syrian constitution could start.
To this end, Turkey, Germany and France could increase pressure on Russia as its stakes in pushing the Bashar al-Assad regime to actively engage into political process are much higher than any other country in the world. In return, Russia would demand a generous funding from European countries and from the European Union for the return of Syrian refugees to their homeland and for the reconstruction of the war-torn country.
In the absence of the U.S., Turkey, Germany and France will not allow Russia to turn this summit into an anti-U.S. platform, but it’s pretty certain that the presence of the American troops and their support to the YPG will be brought to the agenda. The protection of Syria’s territorial integrity and the continued fight against terrorists will surely be emphasized by all countries.
The uncertainty, however, is to what extent this summit will bring about a new solution to resolving the seven-year-long Syrian civil war. Diplomatic sources are not very optimistic that the summit could produce a concrete road map or a series of new ideas to the problem. However, they believe it’s good that countries with differing positions on the problem can come together and perhaps work to narrow their differences for the sake of a chance for peace in Syria.