Last week the peace talks between the Syrian government and opposition were held in Astana. It was their first face-to-face meeting in almost six years of war in Syria. The negotiations were brokered by Russia, Iran and Turkey while the West was sidelined with the US being only present as an observer. Analysts agree that it is a sign of Russia’s increasing power in the Middle East and pointed at Moscow’s serious intentions in negotiating an end to the conflict. Following the meeting Russia, Turkey and Iran issued a joint statement claiming creation of a “trilateral commission” aimed at strengthening a shaky cease-fire established last month and ensuring compliance with it. They also pledged to continue the war against jihadists separating them from armed opposition groups. Moreover, the parties announced that the next round of negotiations will occur under the auspices of the UN in February.
The Kremlin stated that the talks were successful because they provided significant backing for the Geneva process, which had stalled recently, and could lead to the resumption of the Geneva talks. Additionally, Russia distributed a draft Syrian constitution among delegates in Astana. However, the talks also exposed diplomatic rifts between the sponsors themselves, in particular concerning the role of the US in the future as Iran is opposed to including America or the Gulf states in the Astana process. Moreover, the situation can only worsen as on Thursday Donald Trump pledged to “absolutely do safe zones in Syria for the people”. He provided no details but the statement was met with caution by almost all the actors involved.
Nevertheless, probably Vladimir Putin and Donald Trump discussed the question on Saturday during their first official telephone conversation. Besides, journalists forecasted that the presidents could touch on the US sanctions against Russia. Observers think the call could open a dialogue leading to lifting of the sanctions. Despite the fact that on Friday at a news conference with British Prime Minister Theresa May President Trump said it is “very early” to discuss the lifting, there were a lot of speculations that American officials had already closely considered this prospect before the call.
Meanwhile, in contrast to Trump, who stated that he hoped for “a great relationship with Russia”, Theresa May outlined her own quite hawkish vision of future relations with Moscow. She said: “When it comes to Russia, as so often, it is wise to turn to the example of President Reagan who – during negotiations with his opposite number Mikhail Gorbachev – used to abide by the adage ‘trust but verify’. With President Putin, my advice is to ‘engage but beware.’ There is nothing inevitable about conflict between Russia and the West. And nothing unavoidable about retreating to the days of the Cold War. But we should engage with Russia from a position of strength”. In response the Russian Embassy in London published a mocking poem “Engage but beware”, Prime Minister said. As far as we’re aware, Cold War was long dead”.
By Martin Chulov
A theme emerging from Astana is that Russia is prepared to do more than ever to negotiate an end to the conflict.
By David Gardner
The Financial Times
The Kremlin’s moves on Syria are about seeking superpower parity with the US.
By Zalmay Khalilzad
The National Interest
Constructive relations will require more than a good personal relationship between Trump and Putin.
By Eugene Chausovsky
The United States’ strategic imperative of containing Russia will likely go unchanged, limiting the chances of the two states striking a grand bargain.
By Robert Skidelsky
The question of the West’s relationship with Russia has been buried by media stories of hacking, sex scandals, and potential blackmail.
By Jakub Janda
Satisfying Kremlin demands means sacrificing what made America great.
By Stephen F. Cohen
Allegations that the president is a “puppet of Putin” could prevent him from making decisions in America’s best interests.
By Evgeny Lebedev
The Washington Times
There are good reasons to work with Vladimir Putin against a shared threat.
By Frida Ghitis
The question comes down to whether Trump is about to carry out a grand betrayal, known to many by the shorthand “Yalta 2.0.”
By Maxim Trudolyubov
Will Russia be seen in Washington as an adversary or a partner?
By Karen DeYoung and David Filipov
The Washington Post
President Trump said Friday that it is “very early” to discuss lifting sanctions on Russia, suggesting no action is likely in a Saturday call that will be his first official conversation with Russian President Vladimir Putin.
By Julie Lenarz
What makes democracies vulnerable to fake news can also be its strongest defence.
By Rebeccah Heinrichs
If the Trump administration wants to negotiate an arms control treaty with Russia, it must meet several preconditions.
By Michael Buckalew
The National Interest
The Kuril Islands dispute is older than World War II.
By Fred Weir
The Christian Science Monitor
Women’s rights advocates say move leaves women underprotected from abusive spouses. But it also signals the growing political clout of the Russian Orthodox Church and other conservative political actors.
Russia Becomes One Big Money Magnet
By Kenneth Rapoza
Hating Russia as investment story this year might prove as unproductive as it did in 2016, when the Russian small to mid-cap index rose over 95%.
Articles also deserving your attention
The Trump-Putin Parallels Pile Up, (24.01.17)
Russia Is a Terrible Ally Against Terrorism, (23.01.17)
Does Trump Know What Putin Will Demand of Him?, (26.01.17)
The #Resistance and Russia, (25.01.17)
John Lewis: A Tool of Putin, (26.01.17)
The US Election and the Ukraine Connection, (24.01.17)
What to Watch Out for, Mr. President, (24.01.17)
A Chinese Nuclear Deterrent Aimed at the U.S., (25.01.17)
Has Putin Just Arrested Two American Spies?, (26.01.17)
The Exorcist of Russia, (26.01.17)
Welcome to a new world of nationalism, (23.01.17)