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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: 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: Yury Barmin
  • Publication Date: 10-2018
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: The Geneva Centre for Security Policy
  • Abstract: Discussion paper for the workshop on: “The emerging security dynamics and the political settlement in Syria”, Syracuse, Italy, 18-19 October 2018. Throughout its involvement in the Syrian conflict, Russia has been the main guarantor of the survival of the Syrian army as an active fighting force and as a state building block. While Moscow has been investing time and effort into making the Syrian Arab Army a powerful institution, a deep reform process would need to be launched once the war is over. Russia’s role in the Syrian army reform is predicated not only on its active involvement in the Syrian war alongside the army, but also on the close links that have existed between the two countries during the Cold War. The USSR became a political and military patron for Syria in 1955, the country’s military was essentially modelled after the Red Army. The Russian role in Syria extended not only to instructions on how to use Soviet-made weapons but also to training in planning, tactics and operations1 . The extent to which Russia is ready to spearhead the reform process is not yet clear. However, it has been making attempts to increase the institutional and fighting capacity of the Syrian army. Moscow realises that while Iran mostly relies on militias inside Syria, the government in Damascus will not be able to create a viable army on its own. The real extent of change that could be performed by Russia also depends on its willingness to enact political reform in Syria.
  • Topic: Bilateral Relations, Reform, Conflict, Syrian War, Army
  • Political Geography: Russia, Middle East, Syria
  • Author: Hamidreza Azizi
  • Publication Date: 10-2018
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: The Geneva Centre for Security Policy
  • Abstract: Discussion paper for the workshop on: “The emerging security dynamics and the political settlement in Syria”, Syracuse, Italy, 18-19 October 2018. Since the onset of the Syrian crisis in 2011, Iran has provided political, economic and military support to save a friendly government in Damascus and has become a key component of the Syrian equation. Syria’s location in the Levant places it at the heart of the Iranian national security doctrine, as Syria is key to maintaining land access to Hezbollah in Lebanon, preventing terrorism from destabilising Iran, and challenging the dominance of Iran’s rivals in Syria. However, achieving these goals in Syria is problematic in both the short and long term. Despite their agreement on preserving the Assad government, Tehran is not in full agreement with Moscow and Damascus on a post war political system, the role of Iranian forces, Syrian-Israeli relations, and reconstruction policies and contracts. Despite the strong positions against the US and the Syrian opposition, Iran is ready to compromise in Syria. Iran has become more accepting of the Syrian opposition playing a role in the future political structure, but such an acceptance is defined by their real power on the ground and conditioned by respecting Iran’s interests in Syria. Once the West is ready to accept Iran’s interests in Syria and include Iran in the UN peace process in Geneva, the Islamic Republic could relax its positions on post-war political and military structures, which would significantly contribute to ensuring a peaceful political transition in Syria.
  • Topic: Bilateral Relations, Conflict, Syrian War
  • Political Geography: Russia, Iran, Middle East, Syria
  • Author: Nikolay Surkov
  • Publication Date: 10-2018
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: The Geneva Centre for Security Policy
  • Abstract: Discussion paper for the workshop on: “The emerging security dynamics and the political settlement in Syria”, Syracuse, Italy, 18-19 October 2018. Since 2015, Syria has been a test-ground for many Russian military innovations. Among them the Russian Military Police (RMP), which quickly became one of the symbols of the Russian involvement in the Syrian crisis. After defeating the militants, the Russian stabilisation and reconciliation strategy included the deployment of forces that could provide security for civilians, negotiators, demining teams and medics. Furthermore, once the ceasefire agreement was reached in 2016, a peacekeeping force was needed to oversee its implementation. Due to domestic and international circumstances, Russia could not deploy combat troops, so the RMP was chosen for its effectiveness and low profile. The RMP provided support to the Reconciliation Centre (RC), secured humanitarian evacuations and monitored de-escalation zones. Despite certain achievements, total success was limited. Due to its size, the RMP was unable to maintain a massive presence in the governmentcontrolled areas to protect the civilian population and shape the security environment. As such, it could not be a substitute for the local and national Syrian forces that were needed to bring peace and stability in the long run.
  • Topic: Security, Military Affairs, Syrian War, Police, Reconciliation
  • Political Geography: Russia, Middle East, Syria
  • Author: Gustav Lindstrom
  • Publication Date: 01-2011
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: The Geneva Centre for Security Policy
  • Abstract: The 2010 Gstaad Process meeting was held in Switzerland from 16-18 September. Entitled “Beyond Geopolitics – Common Challenges, Joint Solutions?”, the event was organised by the Geneva Centre for Security Policy (GCSP) with the financial support of the Swiss Federal Department of Foreign Affairs (FDFA). Additional partners and contributors were the James Martin Center for Non-proliferation Studies in Monterey (California) and the PIR Center (Moscow).
  • Topic: Security, Arms Control and Proliferation, Science and Technology, Weapons of Mass Destruction
  • Political Geography: Russia, United States, Europe