Russia says no to Syrian federalization as former NATO commander talks partition

© Rafael Marchante
While media rumors claim that Moscow sees a post-crisis Syria as a federalized state, Russia denies holding such an opinion. At the same time, a ‘plan B’ mentioned by John Kerry to break up the Arab country has gained backing from an ex-NATO commander.

Reuters reported on Thursday that Russia was engaged in talks with other global powers on the possibility of turning Syria into a federal state.

“While insisting on retaining the territorial integrity of Syria, so continuing to keep it as a single country, of course there are all sorts of different models of a federal structure that would, in some models, have a very, very loose center and a lot of autonomy for different regions,” a diplomatic source at the UN Security Council told the agency.

However, the Kremlin responded by saying that no such talks were on the table – a message that was emphasized by Russia’s Foreign Ministry on Saturday.

“That is total nonsense. We are not voicing such ideas; they must come from the Syrians themselves – it is up to them to discuss and agree on such things,” deputy foreign minister Mikhail Bogdanov said, as cited by TASS.

Bogdanov added that, from Russia’s point of view, it is better to maintain Syria’s territorial integrity and keep its people intact.

Meanwhile, the discussion in the US has moved further than mere federalization.

Former NATO Supreme Allied Commander Europe James Stavridis wrote in his article for the journal Foreign Policy that dividing Syria into three parts – an Alawite state, a Sunni state, and a Kurdish state – is a viable idea.

“Despite the negatives, partitions can be used with good effect to move warring parties to opposite sides of the battle space. For a population that is already almost 50 percent displaced, frankly, there is not much to lose,” Stavridis wrote.

“A partition could provide a simple chance to leave a refugee camp or avoid a long and dangerous trek to an asylum state — in effect creating the elusive ‘safe zones’ that the international community has yet to put in place,” the retired US navy admiral added.

The expert echoed US State Secretary John Kerry, who said that Syria could be partitioned as a “Plan B” in the event that the ceasefire fails.

“It may be too late to keep it as a whole Syria if we wait much longer,” Kerry told the US Senate foreign relations committee on February 23.

Stavridis, however, says that because of the risk of Sunni extremists seizing large territories and Russia’s support for Syrian President Bashar Assad, the most likely scenario includes a “combined campaign to defeat the Islamic State and a federal system allowing a high degree of local autonomy.”

Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Moallem rejected a peaceful solution based on the federalization of the country, Xinhua News reported on Saturday.

His comments came as a new round of UN-brokered talks between the Syrian government and opposition are to be launched in Geneva on Monday. The parties are set to discuss the creation of a new Syrian constitution and government, as well as parliamentary and presidential elections.

Moallem also said that the Syrian government would not discuss the possibility of Assad stepping down.

“We will not talk to anyone who talks about the position of the presidency,” Foreign Minister Walid Moualem said during a televised news conference in Damascus, Reuters reports. “I advise them that if this is their thinking, they shouldn’t come to the talks. They must abandon these delusions.”

The Syrian opposition accused Damascus of putting the talks in jeopardy by making such a statement.

“Moualem is stopping Geneva before it starts,” Monzer Makhous, a member of the opposition’s High Negotiations Committee, said.

On February 22, President Assad called for new parliamentary elections to be held on April, 13, 2016. This came just hours after Moscow and Washington announced that they had worked out a ceasefire plan for the Arab country, which was implemented four days later.