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  • Author: Kirill Semenov
  • Publication Date: 04-2020
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: The Geneva Centre for Security Policy
  • Abstract: The situation in Idlib poses a challenge to the Assad government. Damascus has neither the forces nor the means to resolve the problem. Moreover, any operation conducted against the Syrian moderate opposition and the radical alliance “Hayat Tahrir al-Sham” (HTS) concentrated in this region could be significantly problematic for the government. Turkey seeks to establish a protectorate or security zone in Idlib to accommodate those fleeing regime-held areas and prevent a new refugees flow into Turkey. The gains achieved by the Turkish operation in Idlib by the establishment of the security zone has potentially been lost as a result of the subsequent Russian backed Syrian government offensive, which has created a problem for Turkey with hundreds of thousands heading toward the Turkish border and threatening to exasperate what is already a costly refugee problem for Ankara. In order for Turkey to address issues in Idlib, including IDPs and economic problems, it first needs to deal with the HTS, ideally finding a way to dissolve the group. This could potentially be an area of cooperation for Moscow and Ankara. This may be necessary to prevent a deterioration in the security situation and long-term destabilisation of the area.
  • Topic: Security, Refugees, Economy, Political stability, Displacement, Syrian War, Hay'at Tahrir al-Sham (HTS), Transition
  • Political Geography: Russia, Turkey, Middle East, Syria, Idlib
  • Author: Serhat Erkmen
  • Publication Date: 04-2020
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: The Geneva Centre for Security Policy
  • Abstract: The Peace Spring Operation (PSO), launched on 9 October 2019, was Turkey’s military/diplomatic/political offensive against the People's Defence Units (YPG) in Syria and beyond and was triggered by key dynamics in the country. The first was the redeployment of US troops in the northeast of Syria; second was the expansion of Russia’s area of influence towards the east of the Euphrates; third was the launch of a new phase of the Assad government’s operation in Idlib; forth was a re-evaluation of YPG’s patron-client relationship with the United States and the European Union. Turkey sought to prevent the formation of a Kurdish state and to address the Syrian refugee issue. While Turkey was able to achieve some strategic gains via the PSO, many challenges remain which prevent Ankara from achieving all its objectives. This paper argues that PSO should be analysed in the context of Turkey’s two former operations in Syria, Euphrates Shield Operation (ESO) and Olive Branch Operation (OBO).
  • Topic: Military Intervention, Conflict, Syrian War, Transition, YPG
  • Political Geography: Russia, Turkey, Middle East, Syria, United States of America
  • Author: Jean-Pierre Keller
  • Publication Date: 04-2020
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: The Geneva Centre for Security Policy
  • Abstract: Since the fall of Baghuz city in North East of Syria in March 2019, thousands of women, children and former IS fighters have been imprisoned in either camps or prisons. Following the Turkish military operation in October 2019, the security conditions have deteriorated, resulting in fewer guards as well as more instability and vulnerability for all those imprisoned. The worsening living conditions, the absence of adequate medical care and lack of access to education endanger the future of the children imprisoned in the camp. Moreover, the influence of the Muhajirats remains constant as a means for the spreading of propaganda inside and outside the camps.
  • Topic: Security, Human Rights, Children, Women, Islamic State, Transition
  • Political Geography: Turkey, Middle East, Syria, United States of America
  • Author: Sinan Hatahet
  • Publication Date: 02-2020
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: The Geneva Centre for Security Policy
  • Abstract: The Syrian Constitutional Committee, a UN-authorised constituent assembly, was established to reconcile the Syrian government and the Syrian opposition, in the context of the peace process, by adopting a new constitution for Syria. While it enjoys a measure of international legitimacy, it may be a mechanism to override the terms of UN Security Council’s resolutions 22541 in favour of establishing the Astana talks as the only regulator of the political process. The committee has encountered several challenges. First is the divergence of expectations between the opposition and the Syrian government; second, the lack of a clear time frame for its deliberations; third, the Syrian government’s insistence on imposing its anti-terrorism vision; finally, the lack of international commitment to its outcome, mainly from the US and its partners. This brief examines the positions of both the Syrian government and the opposition and their expectations from the constitutional process as well as the impact of the Turkish offensive in the north east of the country on the process.
  • Topic: Constitution, Syrian War, Negotiation, Transition
  • Political Geography: Middle East, United Nations, Syria
  • Author: Nikolay Sukhov
  • Publication Date: 01-2020
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: The Geneva Centre for Security Policy
  • Abstract: The Russian leadership believes that the Constitutional Committee (CC) is a key factor in a political settlement in Syria. Russia hopes that the West, primarily the EU, adhering to the principle of “no reconstruction without a political transition”1, would regard the launch of the CC as the beginning of this political process and increase humanitarian aid to Syrians living in government- controlled territory. Russia's position on the constitution issue differs from that of the Syrian government. However, glimmer of hope could come from events in northeast Syria2, which has strengthened position of the opposition in the CC. Yet, neither Russia, nor Syria, are ready to recognise this reality. The Russian leadership is not likely to promote rapprochement between the Syrian government and the opposition on reform issues, as Russia perceives these to be the internal affairs of Syria. In Russia, it is perceived that the constitutional, and later, the political process based on the new constitution, could facilitate the return of refugees. The next step after the adoption of the new constitution should be legislative reform, which would bring Syrian legislation into line with the constitution. The topic of legislative reform in Syria could become bargaining tool for Europe in negotiations with Russia. If Europe wishes to stabilise the situation in Syria and the Middle East, it should first participate in reconstruction efforts by reviving the economy, and thereby Syrian civil society. This would be an indirect stimulation of political reforms. In this case, European leaders need to develop a long-term strategy aimed at improving Syrian society, preventing radical ideas, terrorism and possible new waves of migration to Europe. Russia could contribute to the implementation of European initiatives as the interests of Russia and Europe to stabilise Syria and the region coincide.
  • Topic: Constitution, Syrian War, Negotiation, Peace
  • Political Geography: Russia, Middle East, Syria
  • Author: Igor A. Matveev
  • Publication Date: 12-2019
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: The Geneva Centre for Security Policy
  • Abstract: In order to achieve the goals of the “Rebuild Syria” strategy, Damascus has been trying to attract investment from friendly countries, viewing business cooperation with Russia as a cornerstone of such efforts. Moscow has not yet made a final choice between a comprehensive “broad” approach, aimed at building a long-term economic presence in Syria, and a “narrow approach” of outsourcing the country’s reconstruction to selective Russian companies capable of securing rapid compensation for Russia’s expenditures during the Syrian war. Currently the second approach seems to prevail. The modalities of the Russia-Syria business cooperation are based on the “government-to-government” (G2G), “business-to-government” (B2G) and “business-to-business” (B2B) formats with the first two being preferable for Russian partners. Traders and industrialists from Russia encounter opportunities and challenges in Syria, related to the need of Damascus to restore and modernise the national economy amidst the disruption of the territory and to socioeconomic life, disconnection from the global financial system, Western sanctions against Moscow and Damascus, a history of unsuccessful B2B practices and over-bureaucracy in Syria, hence a preference for G2G and B2G. Future mutual economic ties depend on the evolution of the environment around Syria, reconciliation inside the country and the improvement of the domestic business climate. Moscow is making an effort to push the UN, the EU and GCC states to become donors; although Syria-Russia-EU coordination on other matters seems unlikely due to the latter’s negative political image inside Syria and Damascus’s reliance on Russia and Iran.
  • Topic: Bilateral Relations, Business , Syrian War, Reconciliation , Transition
  • Political Geography: Russia, Middle East, Syria
  • Author: Hamidreza Azizi, Leonid Issaev
  • Publication Date: 02-2019
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: The Geneva Centre for Security Policy
  • Abstract: Discussion paper for the workshop on: “The Politics and Modalities of Reconstruction in Syria”, Geneva, Switzerland, 7-8 February 2019. There has historically been low levels of trade and investment from both Russia and Iran with Syria, with trade in military items being a notable exception. While the trade relationship between Syria and its two main allies predates the conflict, levels of trade had been remarkably low before the crisis, in contrast to mainstream perceptions. Yet, these figures cannot be confirmed due to unavailability of a comprehensive record of the Syrian bilateral relationship with Iran and Russia. Internationally imposed sanctions have discouraged Russian and Iranian companies from doing business with Syria. Lacking any other resources, the only way that Syrian could repay debts to its allies would be to grant exclusive access to energy and natural resources. This however would reduce the public revenue needed to rebuild state institutions, and also encourage foreign rivalry over economic opportunities. As Syria lacks any coordination mechanism for post-war economic reconstruction, Russia and Iran have set their eyes on the energy sector, where Russia has the upper hand. Yet, cooperation is also possible in other sectors, such as Syria’s rail sector. In order to understand the Russian and Iranian economic relationship with Syria, two factors should be considered. First is the informal relationship between Syria and its two allies, which has taken the form of unofficial agreements and trade. These would be important when sanctions are lifted. The second factor is military exports to Syria, expected to be large, given the scale of war and Syrian reliance on Russia and Iran. Due to lack of official data, this paper will not consider both issues.
  • Topic: Economics, Sanctions, Conflict, Syrian War, Investment, Trade
  • Political Geography: Russia, Iran, Middle East, Syria
  • Author: Nikolay Surkov
  • Publication Date: 02-2019
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: The Geneva Centre for Security Policy
  • Abstract: Discussion paper for the workshop on: “The Politics and Modalities of Reconstruction in Syria”, Geneva, Switzerland, 7-8 February 2019. When the major fighting in Syria had stopped, Russia immediately began a campaign of repatriation of Syrians who had fled to neighbouring countries. The Russian government developed a special programme focusing on rehabilitating infrastructure and job creation inside Syria. Its implementation was entrusted to the Russian Ministry of Defence (MoD), working in cooperation with the Syrian authorities to assess the damage and provide necessary materials and equipment. While the programme achieved a measure of success in terms of reconstruction, the security of the returnees remained an issue. Russia has been willing to cooperate with the West for funding reconstruction efforts, so long as they relaxed their political conditionality. It also looked to the Gulf countries as an attractive, yet uncertain option.
  • Topic: Refugees, Political stability, Syrian War
  • Political Geography: Russia, Middle East, Syria
  • Author: Başak Yavçan
  • Publication Date: 02-2019
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: The Geneva Centre for Security Policy
  • Abstract: Discussion paper for the workshop on: “The Politics and Modalities of Reconstruction in Syria”, Geneva, Switzerland, 7-8 February 2019. Turkey hosts the majority of the Syrian refugees, with 3, 636 617 registered Syrians. From 2015, Turkish authorities moved from a policy of temporary protection, to one of integration, while also promoting voluntary return. According to statistics from Directorate General of Migration Management of Turkey (DGMM), in 2018, 254, 000 Syrians voluntarily returned to Syria. This was thought to be the effect of new government policies promoting return, such as permits for holiday visits and family reunion. However, 194, 000 of these re-entered Turkey, casting doubt on the actual impact of these policies as well as the security and economic conditions inside Syria, which would accommodate return.
  • Topic: Government, Migration, Refugees, Syrian War
  • Political Geography: Turkey, Middle East, Syria
  • Author: Fabrice Balanche
  • Publication Date: 02-2019
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: The Geneva Centre for Security Policy
  • Abstract: Discussion paper for the workshop on: “The Politics and Modalities of Reconstruction in Syria”, Geneva, Switzerland, 7-8 February 2019. The war in Syria has not ended, yet uncoordinated bottom-up reconstruction efforts have already taken place in many areas where the bombing and violence have stopped. The government is prioritising restoring electricity, as it is inexpensive, but water, education, and health are harder to restore cheaply and quickly. The resumption of public services, and investment in regime areas depends on loyalty, reminiscent of pre-war sectarian politics. The extent of politicisation of the reconstruction efforts led by the Syrian government is reduced because of limited funds, and government disconnection from local levels. Bottom-up efforts to reconstruction are limited to individuals rebuilding their houses using remittances, or low-level housing projects. Lack of large funding for infrastructure, industry and health will slow growth, reinforce fragmentation of industry and reproduce the root causes of the conflict.
  • Topic: Government, Infrastructure, Reconstruction, Conflict, Syrian War, Services
  • Political Geography: Middle East, Syria