Is the Abdi Family the new Makhloufs of Syria? Ömer Behram Özdemir Kutluhan Görücü
The YPG had previously been the topic of discussion due to its forced recruitment of child soldiers in their so-called autonomous regions in the war-torn country. Now the so-called autonomous region has once more become a topic of discussion, yet this time with allegations of nepotism, maleficence and favoritism by Mazloum Abdi. As per reports by researcher Hedwig Kujipers, which have been validated by Suriye Gündemi through various resources both open and local sources, many members from the Mazloum Abdi’is family have acquired significant positions within the so-called autonomous administration of the YPG/SDF. As Kujipers made these allegations, many pro YPG accounts claimed that these people were not from the Abdi family, and that it was simply a coincidence of similar surnames. Suriye Gündemi however, through open sources close to the Abdi family, has proven most of these allegations concerning Abdi’s immediate family. Indeed, a Syrian Kurd close to the Abdi family confirmed the truth of the allegations to Suriye Gündemi. Moreover, a PKK sympathizer on Twitter has openly declared that Mazloum Abdi’s family members are part of the administration in the city of Ayn al Arab. The Twitter account with the name “Ali Fırat” associates himself with the PKK and in his social media posts refers to the PKK as “our movement” going as far as referring to the founding leader of the terrorist organization, Abdullah Öcalan, as “leader”. It is significant that these allegations, also confirmed by sources on the ground by Suriye Gündemi, have been validated by someone from the PKK-network. Abdi Family Suriye Gündemi, which validated many of the claims directed against the Abdi Family, has uncovered information regarding Abdi’s siblings. In Ayn al Arab (Kobane), foremost, Mustafa, Kurdu, Mazlum, Dara, Fawzo and Rewşen Abdi, all siblings of Abdi, are increasing their footprint in the SDF administration. Moreover, according to a Syrian Kurdish source from the area, Abdi has another brother called Ferhad who lives in Ukraine. However, no information on him has been found from open sources. While it is not possible to make a definite statement, there is a possibility that he might be Mazloum Abdi who is also known as Ferhad Abdi Şahin and Şahin Cilo. Mazloum Abdi’s sister, Dara Abdi’s Facebook account reveals photos of most of the family’s members. Further, in a photo from Nowruz celebrations, which includes a significant portion of the family (mother, father, sister, brother and uncle), Dara Abdi hasn’t neglected to tag Fawzo Abdi, his sister.  Kurdu Abdi shares a photo of himself and Dara Abdi on Facebook.  Again, on Kurdu Abdi’s Facebook profile one may find a photo of his brother Mustafa Abdi.  Mazloum Abdi’s sister, Rewşen Abdi, has not only put a photo of Mazloum Abdi as her profile picture but also shares many of Mazloum’s photos on her profile. Furthermore, she also shares photos of her alongside her sister Fawzo Abdi.  Although we cannot provide details due to security concerns, a the local source is in close contact with the Abdi family as he went to the same school class with one of the Abdi family. This source has stated that while only Mazloum Abdi joined the PKK, members of his family were also PKK sympathizers. Indeed, Facebook posts from these family members are also quite intriguing. In this regard, it is significant that Mustafa Abdi, known to be the family’s eldest brother, shared a eulogy on Facebook for Enver Alloush, who recently died in Spain while serving a prison sentence for drug trafficking. This highlights the family’s close ties to the PKK’s founding cadres, and more significantly to the cadres in Syria. Indeed, Envar Alloush is a man who hosted Abdullah Öcalan in his home in Syria and is a close friend of Salih Muslim. He is also a name who was prominent in the PKK’s drug network in Europe.  Nepotism and Favoritism According to Kujipers’s report, based on open sources and staff of the so-called autonomous administration, Abdi’s brother, Dara Abdi, by virtue of his familial links, was awarded hefty contracts primarily concerning supplying food to American forces stationed in the south of Ayn al Arab amongst other services. Dara Abdi, who happens to be a lawyer, is also actively involved in the council in Ayn al Arab concerning tradesmen and SMEs as well as other councils under the auspices of the so-called autonomous administration. Moreover, the Lawyers Union in Ayn al Arab is another institution he plays a prominent role in. These councils serve as extensions of the so-called autonomous administration in Ayn al Arab. Another allegation to point is that Mazloum Abdi’s other brother Kurdu Abdi’s position as head of the military hospital in Ayn al Arab. It is known that Kurdu Abdi is an orthopedist. In the Abdi Family, where the eldest brother Mustafa Abdi and father Halil Abdi are also doctors, it is also quite popular to study medicine amongst nephews and nieces. Medicine comes to the forefront in terms of the professions of the male members of the family. In addition, it is stated in the report that Fawzo Abdi, sister to Mazloum, in her role as either co-president or member of the so-called autonomous administration’s Kobane People’s Parliament, visited Turkey in 2014 as a pro YPG political agent. At the moment Fawzo Abdi serves as the co-president of the Legislative Council of the Euphrates Region. Basically, Fawzo Abdi is directly part of the legislative process of the YPG. At the moment, allegations on Abdi’s sisters are not merely about Fawzo Abdi. According to Kujipers’s validation through an open source, Rewşen Abdi, another sister of Mazloum, holds the position of mayor of Ayn al Arab. The Abdi Family’s presence in the region’s YPG supported institutions is not limited to the immediate family. According to Kujipers, cousins of the Abdi Family have also landed many positions in the region. Abdi’s cousin and brother in law, engineer Halil Abdi, functions as the head of Reconstruction and Housing in YPG controlled areas. Another cousin, Aziz Abdi, is the person responsible for bakeries and baked goods distribution in Ayn Al Arab. On the other hand, Halis Abdi is responsible for the city’s water works, while Mustafa Abdi functions as the head of the administrative council of Ayn al Arab. https://hizliresim.com/nYvZod The so-called autonomous administration, which presents itself as an alternative to the Assad regime in Syria, is laid bare by the family of Mazloum Abdi’s presence in the SDF as well as its political wing, the SDC. Moreover, it should not be forgotten that in SDF areas authority and power reside in local institutions rather than the autonomous central administration. As such, the autonomous administration’s positions and presence is mere formality. The positions occupied by members of the Abdi Family should be considered within this context.  https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=793626647689842&set=pb.100011275412100.-2207520000..&type=3  https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=773159809857942&set=pb.100014917891454.-2207520000..&type=3  https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=765509027289687&set=pb.100014917891454.-2207520000..&type=3  https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=1925233937709566&set=pb.100006689340416.-2207520000..&type=3  https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=3593034284123480&set=pb.100002508311486.-2207520000..&type=3  https://hedwigkuijpersjournalism.wordpress.com/2020/12/19/corruption-in-kobani-the-abdi-dynasty/ , Erişim Tarihi: 20 Aralık 2020.  https://www.cumhuriyet.com.tr/haber/rojavadan-ilk-resmi-ziyeret-51123 , Erişim Tarihi: 20 Aralık 2020.
The Structure of the Syrian National Army
The Structure of the Syrian National Army After eight years of war, the Syrian opposition announced that all armed groups united under the command of the Syrian Interim Government’s Defense Ministry and joined forces under the banner of the National Army. This announcement marks a milestone in the journey of the Syrian opposition which united ranks and is a product of a 3-year process that commenced with the start of the Operation Euphrates Shield. With the increasing role of Turkey as the sole backer of the Syrian opposition and following Turkish pressure, the remaining factions in Idlib, Afrin, and northern Aleppo came together. However, the announcement in and of itself does not guarantee the unity of the Syrian opposition. Yet and despite the fact that many structural and environmental obstacles remain, the announcement may provide new opportunities for the actors involved in the Syrian War. Most notably, the announcement of the unification also comes with an essential change within the Syrian opposition. For the first time, the Syrian Interim Government formed by the Syrian National Coalition has managed take the armed opposition under its command. With this step, the political opposition for the first time may be able to proclaim itself the representative of the entire Syrian opposition. In general, the factions that united and became the National Army can be summarized as all the factions in Idlib, Latakia, Hama, western Aleppo, Afrin, and northern Aleppo. However, a deeper look into the factions offers important insight into the National Army’s constituent components. Among the 41 factions that joined the merger, 15 are from the National Front for Liberation and 26 from the Syrian National Army. Thirteen of these factions were formed after the United States cut its support to the armed Syrian opposition. In terms of numbers, the National Army comprises of approximately 70,000-90,000 fighters. The biggest factions in numbers in the National Army are Ahrar al-Sham, Ahrar al Sharqiyah, Faylaq al-Sham, Firka Hamza, Firka Sultan Murad, Free Idlib Army, Jabhat Shamiyah, Jaysh al-Islam, Jaysh al-Ahrar, Jaysh a- Nasr, Jaysh al-Sharqiya, and Jaysh al-Nukhba. The Structure of the Syrian National Army The Syrian National Army is officially part of the Syrian Interim Government and responds to the Defense Ministry of the Syrian Interim Government. Abdurrahman Mustafa as the president of the Syrian Interim Government and Selim Idris as the Minister of Defense are in charge over the Syrian National Army. Selim Idris is also the Chief of Staff of the Syrian National Army. However, the Gathering of the Syrian National Army faction leaders as a council has a strong say within the Syrian National Army. The commanders of the three legions of the Syrian National Army; Muataz Raslan, Mahmud el Baz and Abu Ahmad Nour are responsible for all of the factions of their legion. Each commander have officially order command of them anda re taking decision as representatives of their legion in coordination with Selim Idris and the other two commanders of the other legions. The Chief of Staff and the Defense Ministry have different offices operating autonomous from the factions of the Syrian National Army and only respond to Selim Idriss. The spokesman Yusuf Hamoud and his media Office, the head of the military court Arafat Hamourd and the military court office, the head of the military police service Ahmad al Kurdi and the military police, the head of the guidance counselors Hasan Dagim and the guidance counselors office, the finance office, the administration and organization office, the operational office and the training office are all under the command of the Syrian Defense Ministry. The Composition of the Legions of the Syrian National Army While the 4-7 legions of the Syrian National Army compose of the factions in İdlib of the National Front for Liberation and have yet to be formed, the first three legions of the Syrian National Army have a set structure. The first three legions are also the ones who joined the Operation Peace Spring. The First Legion composes of the 11. Division, 12. Division, 13. Division and the 14. Division. The 11. Division composes of the 111. Brigade (Liwa al Shimal), the 112. Brigade (Jaysh al Ahfad) and the 113. Brigade (Jaysh al Ahfad). The 12. Division composes of the 121. Brigade (Liwa Samarkand), the 122. Brigade (Liwa Muntassir Billah) and the 123. Brigade (Ahrar al Sharqiyyah). The 13. Division composes of the 131. Brigade (Sultan Mehmed Fatih), the 132. Brigade (Kaidat al Ghazil) and the 133. Brigade (Liwa al Wakkas). The 14. Division composes of the 141. Brigade (Faylaq al Sham), the 142. Brigade (Sultan Sulaiman Shah), 142. Brigade (9th Division), 144. Brigade (20th Division), 145. Brigade (Jaysh al Nukhba) and the 146. Brigade (Jaysh al Sharqiyyah). The Second Legion composes of the 21. Division (Firka Sultan Murad), the 22. Division (Firka Hamza and Liwa Suqour al Shimal), the 23. Division (Firka Muattasim and Rejal al Harb), the 24. Division (Firka Sultan Murad), the 25. Division (Jaysh al Islam) and the 26. Division (Feylaq al Rahman). The Third Legion composes of the 31. Division (Jabhat Shamiyah), the 32. Division (Jabhat Shamiyah and Suqour al-Sham), the 33. Division (Jabhat Shamiyah), the 34. Division (51. Division [Sultan Osman, Thuwwar Al Jazira, Fawc al Mustafa and Fawc al Awwal] and Liwa al Salam [Fawc al Hamis and Firka 23]), the 35. Division (Faylaq al Majd). This study has been conducted via several interviews with officials of the Syrian National Army and based on the previous work of author, Ömer Özkizilcik, Uniting the Syrian Opposition: The Components of The National Army and the Implications of the Unification, (SETA Foundation: Ankara, 2019). https://setav.org/en/assets/uploads/2019/10/A54En.pdf
Mounting DAESH Resurgence in Syria Enes Ayaşlı
How should we read the post-pandemic conflict setting with regard to Daesh in Syria? This is a novel question requiring an in-depth analysis to have a better perspective on the future of Daesh and the spatial importance of Syria in that. To do so, it is crucial for us to primarily observe and interpret recent Daesh strategies. Some high-ranked US officials have told reporters that the number of Daesh attacks are on par with the previous year. Yet, such statements are deceptive by nature and provide only a superficial overview of what is actually happening in the field. When we look at the first quarter of 2020, fatalities caused by Daesh was only around 2.68% of all fatalities in Syria. The second quarter, however, recorded almost an exponential increase with Daesh-related deaths constituted slightly more than 20%. While the total number of fatalities significantly decreased in the second period (from 3064 to 1361), Daesh killed more people than the previous period (82 to 273), thus increasing its share in the ongoing bloodshed. Assuming that late March and early April signifies the beginning of the lockdown processes and the rise of COVID-19 in most cases, these numbers could be useful in the future assessment of the correlation between the resurgence of Daesh and the pandemic. The decrease in the total number of fatalities may also indicate the restrictive effect the global outbreak has had on the Syrian conflict. However, analyzing Daesh in today’s Syria and inferences made out of it may not necessarily point out to and/or be driven from a causal relationship between increasing number of Daesh attacks and the COVID-19. What is quite certain is that we are witnessing an Daesh redux within and beyond Syria. Evolving Nature of Daesh Strategies The terror group’s attacks are still opportunistic by nature. Due to the Syrian Arab Army (SAA), YPG, and the Global Coalition to Defeat Daesh’ intensified attacks, Daesh hasn’t been able to carry out extensive and complex military operations in the recent period. However, with SAA’s current concentration on the Idlib governorate, US’ partial sidelining from the conflict, and YPG’s lack of willingness to fully eradicate Daesh, the terror group has now the opportunity to act upon and rebuild strength. It is clear that they can still effectively use IEDs, VBIEDs, mines, or harass patrolling activities. Yet, what is more striking is the way Daesh carries out its small-scale attacks. With establishing mobile command centers, the group has been spotted coordinating fighters not by being physically intercepted by rival forces. Mobile command centers are evident of how the group may switch to new tactics while depending more on digital means. Not only do mobile command centers hinder spatial tracking of an attack’s origin, so safeguarding decision-makers, it could also allow militants to organize simultaneous attacks across the region. Meanwhile, the Coalition virtually met on June 4th, where the group reaffirmed its “shared determination to continue the fight against ISIS”. However, only the time will tell what kind of measures will be taken and the extent to which the operation’s scope will be extended. No matter how well the military operations are to be conducted, it is essential to underline the necessity of two interrelated policy options: (1) the digital war on Daesh by delicately balancing security and privacy, and (2) the checks on YPG to maintain security and order in Daesh-eradicated areas. Daesh keeps using some social media channels as its safe heavens from which they will have new opportunities to recruit. Thus, a victory in the battlefield is not the absolute gain for the Coalition. Forestalling the online propaganda is just as important as defeating militants on the ground. Meanwhile, YPG -US’ partner in the fight against Daesh-, and the areas under its control require close monitoring. YPG’s demographic engineering policies where Sunni Arab tribes are alienated not only tip the scales in favor of future YPG claims in Syrian territories but also fuel the already existing tension, thus opening the ground for possible Daesh exploitation. Another pillar of the group’s evolving strategy is prisons. With thousands of former Daesh militants being held, makeshift prisons in Syria have posed a significant threat since the outbreak of COVID-19. Potential riots due to worsening conditions and/or conducting small or medium-scale attacks to help break out militants of facilities are high-risk scenarios Daesh could benefit from. That is why both the medical situation and the security of these facilities should be closely monitored. Full defeat of Daesh: A Placebo Effect? The US President Donald Trump’s announcement that Daesh defeated in Syria would only create a placebo effect not because the organization was buried to the ground with all its spiritual and ideological legacy but because most militants had been neutralized in the remaining pockets. With its ideological sphere of influence extending across and beyond the Middle East, it is now likely that Daesh could use potential recruits to wreak havoc on disbelievers through personal means. Identifying pandemic as God’s rage against disbelievers, Daesh is able to mobilize followers in the so-called ‘pursuit of God’s vengeance’. Exploiting the fears of locals associated with the pandemic, Daesh may see an opportunity to legitimize its fight with an increasing number of followers joining or rejoining the cause. The Caesar Syria Civilian Protection Act, a U.S. legislation imposing sanctions on those conducting business with the Syrian Government, could also be exploited by Daesh. Such businesses operate, for instance, in YPG-controlled territories, and failing to exclude those areas from the scope of sanctions may hamper access to basic services, thus overwhelming locals already struggling to recover from the brutality of Daesh and its physical destruction. Without US aids and protection, it is doubtful that YPG will maintain a self-sufficient economy. External resources are the backbone of YPG rule in Syria. Daesh will potentially abuse such an economic breakdown unless the effects of sanctions are mitigated. With an economic downfall being present in Syria, it is quite ambiguous to claim full defeat of Daesh and erroneous to argue that YPG could survive on its own. The YPG as local ally to eliminate Daesh is a fragile strategy which is doomed to fail when the foreign aid ends or reduces. Therefore, a more suitable and long-living strategy with a less dependent local actor is needed. Future repercussions of these sanctions should, therefore, be closely monitored as to protect civilians from falling for the Daesh propaganda. Concluding Remarks It is almost a paradox that Daesh is regaining back strength while the world is beleaguered by the pandemic. They may not be moving swiftly as they did before, but this is not indicative of how they may prove successful seizing the world’s attention back again. Thus, it is important to keep track of how Daesh will prove relevance to the post-pandemic phase of the conflict. Expanding control over territories may not prove more useful for Daesh than re-claiming its relative spiritual power and existence in Syria. While small scale attacks are expected as the group has been weakened to a large extent, its online propaganda still stands powerful for potential recruits. The increase in Daesh attacks also provides some preliminary evidence that Daesh is trying to seize an opportunity during the global outbreak. However, it is also possible that the pandemic is being utilized to advance already established goals, thus serving not as a reference point but as a variable we should be aware of in our observations. Daesh redux in Syria should, therefore, be analyzed across both scenarios. That is why, instead of asking what impacts the outbreak has on the resurgence of Daesh and establishing a direct causality between two, it could be better to ask how Daesh may prove relevance to the pandemic and post-pandemic world. By doing so, we can also incorporate the role of the Assad regime in Daesh redux, which definitely requires further elaboration and may be a stronger indicator of the resurgence than COVID-19.  ISIS seeks to exploit pandemic to mount resurgence in Iraq and Syria, CNN Politics, 8 May 2020  The Armed Conflict Location & Event Data Project, 20 June 2020  Syria, Isis at Deir Ezzor and Homs use mobile command centers, Difesa and Sicurezza, 30 April 2020  Joint Communique By Ministers Of The Global Coalition To Defeat Daesh/Isis Small Group, Global Coalition, 4 June 2020  Trump claims’ 100 percent’ of ISIS caliphate defeated in Syria, ABC News, 28 February 2019  Will COVID-19 Fuel or Deescalate the Conflict in Syria?, LSE Middle East Blog, 22 April 2020
The Syrian Revolution and the Geopolitics of Energy Mehmet Çağatay Güler
The Syrian Revolution and the Geopolitics of Energy Considering the economic profile of Syria before the inception of 2011 revolution, it would not be wrong to claim that it was a foreign-resource dependent economy. Their national income was highly dependent on the exports of raw materials and the imports of machinery and transportation products. Speaking of the exports of raw materials, crude oil and other mineral products were standing as the main export commodities. Apart from being a basic economic input, these mineral products/energy resources have also crucial importance to be able to maintain sustainable development, industrialization and urbanization. However, after the inception of the civil war, non-state actors like ISIS, SDG/YPG have seized control of the significant oil and gas fields as well as the hydroelectric power plants located in the country. While these mentioned non-state actors have been obtaining immense economic profits, Syrian regime’s economy has been devastated. Notwithstanding, Syrian regime has been compensating these losses in their energy resources by illegal exportations which also means more burden on their economic budget. All these losses in their energy resources and declines of their revenues, constitute an obstacle on the way to establish just, lasting and comprehensive peace in the country and in the region. To be able to establish stability and security in the region, the control of these resources ought to be taken over from the terrorist organizations and the revenues that they obtain through these resources must be prevented. The Economic Situation in Syria: Before the Revolution As of 2010, the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) of Syria was around 60 billion dollaralong with a considerable amount of population (21 million). In the same year, agriculture represented 23 percent of GDP, industry 30 percent, and services 47 percent. In this period, crude oil (around 109 thousand barrel in a day) was in the first place among the main export commodities. The revenues of crude oil export, around 4 billion dollar, constitute the 30 percent of the total Syrian government revenues. The refined petroleum products and the other mineral products were standing just behind the crude oil export. The 90 percent of this crude oil were exported to European Countries. Regarding the import commodities of the Syrian government, machineries and other mineral products share the first place. The 45 percent of these imported products were originated in Asia and 38 percent of them were coming from Europe. As such Italy, Germany and the Russian Federation were among the largest import partners in Europe. On the other hand, the People’s Republic of China (PRC), the Republic of Turkey, and the Republic of Korea were constituted the largest import partner in Asia. PRC, Republic of Korea and Germany were the main countries where Syria imported machinery and transportation products. It is a very common phenomenon that we usually face: If one country’s value-added from industry sector ranges between 25-30 percent and the services sector generates the biggest part of the value-added of that certain country, then the same country usually exports raw materials and imports machinery. In brief, this type of countries are generally foreign-dependent, low productive countries whose production mostly consisted from low-value-added products. In a nutshell, this was and still is the case for Syria. The Status of the Energy Resources after the Revolution Following the inception of the revolution in Syria, we have witnessed harsh and bloody divisions in the country. The regime forces have lost control of the significant territories and resources to different non-state actors e.g. ISIS, SDG/YPG, Opposition. These non-state actors have seized control of critical parts of the country and rest has been left to the Esed regime’s authority. In the beginning, Opposition forces dominated and took control of the large areas of the land, whereas in 2015, ISIS consolidated its hegemony over the areas that contain rich energy resources and beyond. These energy rich areas, including Deir Ez Zor, Al-Hasaka, Homs and Al-Raqqa, constitute almost the 65-70 percent of the total energy resources of the country. When we compare the Esed regime’s total energy production in 2010 and in 2015, we see a sharp decline from 27.67 million tonnes oil equivalent (Mtoe) to 4.68 Mtoe. Similarly, their total electricity generation declined by 27 billion kilowatt hours (kWh) to 17 billion kWh in just 5 years. The petroleum industry of the country took a hit as they were previously able to produce 416 thousand barrel crude oil per day, however it fell down to 35 thousand barrel per day in 2015. Eventually, the Esed regime became an oil-importer since they were unable to supply the demand of 139 thousand barrel per day. To top of the already harsh conditions, they lost control of important gas fields and consequently their natural gas production was declined by 4.5 billion m3 to 4.3 billion m3 in five years. In 2015, Esed regime lost control of the most of the energy resources and the production capacity once it possesses, to ISIS. This above mentioned production differences, excluding the SDG/YPG-controlled areas and the malfunctioned facilities due to the war conditions, put forth the estimated production capacity of ISIS at that period. Though we are not able to put forward the exact revenue of ISIS with official data, nevertheless, we can calculate the approximate profit that ISIS once had when they were prevailing. In this regard, if we take the averaged 53.60 dollars of Brent Oil priceas of 2015 and at least 300 thousand barrel crude oil export capacity, we can claim that they had the potential to generate 6 billion dollars (53,60×300.000×365) revenue in 2015. Furthermore, considering the averaged 2.62 dollars of Henry Hub natural gas prices and 4.5 billion m3 production capacity of natural gas, they could have obtained 421 million dollars (2,62×160593066) income in the same year. Notwithstanding, ISIS took the possession of the Syria’s most important water resource (Euphrates river) and the three crucial hydroelectricity generation dams (Baath, Teshreen, Al-Thawra) with the installed capacity of 1.5 million kWh. Since 2016, U.S.-backed SDG/YPG forces have gradually seized control of the areas which were previously under control of ISIS. Almost all of the water and energy resources along with the production and export potential, once ISIS enjoyed, fell under the hegemony of SDG/YPG forces. In spite of the some fields over which regime claimed authority, it was indeed SDG/YPG who came out ahead. When we further analyze the mentioned fields, in addition to Conoco gas field and oil fields located in Al-Raqqa and Al-Hasaka, more than 10 oil and gas fields, specifically the Al-Omar, located on the East coast of the Deir Ez Zor district, are in the grip of SDG/YPG forces. On the other side, Esed regime controls Shaer oil and gas fields in Homs as well as the several oil fields which are located on the West coast of the Deir Ez Zor district. Only one or two oil fields located on the South coast of the Deir Ez Zor district and somewhere close to the city of Abu-Kemal are left to the possession ISIS. Regarding the electricity generation issue, Syria’s 1.5 million kW installed capacity of hydroelectricity was fallen under the authority of SDG/YPG as well. When we re-calculate the 6 billion dollars export potential of crude oil with the new averaged price of Brent Oil (73.10 dollar), we find out that the SDG/YPG’s current potential is around 8 billion dollars (73,10x300000x365). Similarly, by taking the new averaged price of Henry Hub natural gas (3,04)into consideration and re-calculate the 420 million dollars natural gas export potential of ISIS as of 2015, we see that the SDG/YPG’s current potential is around 490 million dollars (3,04×160593066). For non-state actors, these are extremely high numbers so much so that the states behind these actors get their slices from the cake. Nevertheless, these are all estimated numbers which might have been affected negatively from the operations conducted by the Turkish Armed Forces. Through the help of “Operation Euphrates Shield” and “Operation Olive Branch”, the planned trade route towards Mediterranean Sea was blockaded and the future revenues via Mediterranean trades were prevented. In sum, crucial energy and water resources along with the hydroelectric power plants were first lost to ISIS and then to SDG/YPG. Although the regime forces have achieved to preserve significant thermal power plants and refineries, they lost control of the most of the natural resources which are being used in these thermal power plants and refineries. As a result, regime has been using mostly illegal means to compensate its losses in their energy resources and to substitute its declined electricity production. As such, these losses have been mostly substituted via Iran and non-state actors like SDG/YPG. Even if we do not acquire any information or data about the legal energy trade, according to the unofficial data, only in October more than 100 thousand barrels of crude oil were imported from Iran per day. The Esed regime has been utilizing these crude oils for daily purposes as well as in their war requirements (as jet and tank fuel). In addition to them, the previous partnership deal which was signed between Esed regime and SDG/YPG regarding the oil fields located in Al-Hasaka, is the proof of the regime’s illegal substitute from non-state actors. Conclusion All in all, the initiative of the reconstruction process for Syrian people by their own resources, are in the hands of this terrorist organization (SDG/YPG). In the light of all the facts mentioned above, since the first day of the civil war until today, the situation that the regime has been in is not promising in terms of energy and water resources. There is a need for radical change in the status of these energy resources which may be regarded as benchmarks for the development and the survival of the country. To his end, if these large amounts of energy resources and high profits pursuant to these resources, were not taken from the initiative of this terrorist organization it would not be possible to achieve sustainable development in the country, not to mention sustainable peace and security in region. Mehmet Çağatay Güler Sources: Statista, “Nominal gross domestic product (GDP) in Syria from 2008 to 2015 (in billion U.S. dollars)”, Statista Inc, www.statista.com/statistics/742532/gdp-in-syria/[accessed on November 17, 2018]The World Bank, “Syrian Arab Republic/ Total Population”, The World Bank Indicator, data.worldbank.org/indicator/SP.POP.TOTL?locations=SY[accessed on 17 Nov 2018]FAO, The Statistical Yearbook of 2013: World Food and Agriculture,Food and Agriculture Organization of the United States, Rome 2013: 32OEC, “What does Syria export? (2010)”, The Observatory of Economic Complexity, atlas.media.mit.edu/en/visualize/tree_map/hs92/export/syr/all/show/2010/[accessed on November 18, 2018]EIA, “Today in Energy”, Energy Information Agency, 16 Sep 2011, www.eia.gov/todayinenergy/detail.php?id=3110 [accessed on 12 Nov 2018]OEC, “What does Syria export? (2010)”, The Observatory of Economic Complexity, atlas.media.mit.edu/en/visualize/tree_map/hs92/export/syr/all/show/2010/ [accessed on November 18, 2018]EIA, ibid.OEC, “What does Syria import? (2010)”, The Observatory of Economic Complexity, atlas.media.mit.edu/en/visualize/tree_map/hs92/import/syr/all/show/2010/ [accessed on November 20, 2018]OEC, “ Where does Syria import from? (2010)”, The Observatory of Economic Complexity, https://atlas.media.mit.edu/en/visualize/tree_map/hs92/import/syr/show/all/2010/ [accessed on November 20, 2018]Ibid.Ibid.Suriyegündemi, “Change In The North Of Syria Between 2013-2018”, 14 Nov 2018, www.suriyegundemi.com/2018/11/14/2013-2018-yillari-arasinda-suriyenin-kuzeyinde-yasanan-degisim/ [accessed on November 20, 2018]AA, “Suriye’deki enerji kaynaklarının ne kadarı PYD’nin elinde?”, Anadolu Ajansı, 09 Feb 2018, www.ntv.com.tr/dunya/suriyedeki-enerji-kaynaklarinin-ne-kadari-pydnin-elinde,YeFYqGOsp0-lE7YcMcWCdA [accessed on November 9, 2018] (in Turkish)IEA, “Syrian Arab Republic:Indicators for 2010”, International Energy Agecy, www.iea.org/classicstats/statisticssearch/report/?country=SYRIA&product=indicators&year=2010(ingilizce kaynak) [erişim tarihi 15.11.2018] ve EIA, “Syrian Arab Republic:Indicators for 2015”, International Energy Agecy, www.iea.org/classicstats/statisticssearch/report/?country=SYRIA&product=indicators&year=2015[accessed on November 9, 2018]EIA,”Total Electricity Net Generation 2010”, International Energy Statistics, Energy Information Agency, https://www.eia.gov/beta/international/rankings/#?prodact=2-12&cy=2010&pid=2&aid=12&tl_id=12-A&tl_type=a [accessed on November 15, 2018] and EIA, “Energy Source/Electricty/Syria”, International Energy Statistics, Energy Information Agency, www.eia.gov/beta/international/ [accessed on November 15, 2018]EIA, “Total Petroleum and Other Liquids Production 2010”, International Energy Statistics, Energy Information Agency, www.eia.gov/beta/international/rankings/#?prodact=53-1&cy=2010&pid=53&aid=1&tl_id=1-A&tl_type=/ [accessed on November 15, 2018] and EIA, “Total Petroleum and Other Liquids Production 2015”, International Energy Statistics, Energy Information Agency, www.eia.gov/beta/international/rankings/#?prodact=2-7&cy=2015&tl_id=5-A / [accessed on November 15, 2018]EIA, “Total Petroleum Consumption 2015”, International Energy Statistics, Energy Information Agency, www.eia.gov/beta/international/rankings/#?prodact=2-7&cy=2015&tl_id=5-A&aid=2&pid=5[accessed on November 15, 2018]EIA, “Dry Natural Gas Production 2010”, International Energy Statistics, Energy information Agency, www.eia.gov/beta/international/rankings/#?prodact=26-1&cy=2010&pid=3&tl_type=a&ug=8 / [accessed on November 19, 2018] and EIA, “Dry Natural Gas Production 2015”, International Energy Statistics, Energy information Agency, www.eia.gov/beta/international/rankings/#?prodact=26-1&cy=2015&pid=26&tl_type=a&ug=8 / [accessed on November 19, 2018]Fusion Media, “Brent Petrol Vadeli İşlemleri Geçmiş Verileri”, tr.investing.com/commodities/brent-oil-historical-data [accessed on November 20, 2018]Macrotrends, “Henry Hub Natural Gas Spot Price – Historical Annual Data”, Natural Gas Prices – Historical Chart, www.macrotrends.net/2478/natural-gas-prices-historical-chart [accessed on November 20, 2018World Energy Council, “Hydropower in Syria”, www.worldenergy.org/data/resources/[accessed on November 20, 2018] andTobias von Lossow, “Water as Weapon: IS on the Euphrates and Tigris”, Stiftung Wissenschaft und Politik (German Institute for International and Security Affairs), 2016: 5, see also: Plants/Hydro/Syrian Arab Republic, globalenergyobservatory.org/select.php?tgl=Edit [accessed on November 12, 2018]Suriyegündemi, “Oil/Gas Fields And Refineries In Syria”, 23 Nov 2018, www.suriyegundemi.com/2018/11/23/suriyedeki-petrol-gaz-kuyulari-ve-rafineriler/ [accessed on November 26, 2018], see aslo: AA, “Suriye’deki enerji kaynaklarının ne kadarı PYD’nin elinde?”, Anadolu Ajansı, 09.02.2018, www.ntv.com.tr/dunya/suriyedeki-enerji-kaynaklarinin-ne-kadari-pydnin-elinde,YeFYqGOsp0-lE7YcMcWCdA [accessed on November 20, 2018] (in Turkish)Ibid.Ibid.Fusion Media, ibid.Macrotrends, ibid.BBC, “Başbakan Yıldırım: Fırat Kalkanı Harekâtı bitmiştir”, BBC|Türkçe, 30 Mar 2017, www.bbc.com/turkce/haberler-turkiye-39439339 [accessed on November 17, 2018] (in Turkish)CNN TÜRK, “Zeytin Dalı Harekatı nedir? Cumhurbaşkanlığı yanıtladı”, CNN TÜRK, 28 Ocak 2018, www.cnnturk.com/turkiye/zeytin-dali-harekati-nedir-cumhurbaskanligi-yanitladi?page=1 [accessed on November 17, 2018] (in Turkish)Aime Williams vd., “US claims Russian groups helped funnel Iran oil to Syria”, Financial Times, 20 Kas 2018, www.ft.com/content/b86ab54e-ece8-11e8-8180-9cf212677a57 [accessed on November 21, 2018]Ibid.Ibid.AA, ibid.
Antifa and the YPG: An Ideological Partnership
Antifa has recently drawn the world’s attention towards itself as President Trump announced the group guilty of on-going chaos in the US. The protests and unrest in the streets of several American cities had been triggered by the death of an African-American George Floyd caused by a police officer. On May 31, almost a week after civic unrest in the streets of Minneapolis and several other American cities, Donald Trump found whom to blame. Holding the Antifa movement responsible for instability in the country, he made public his intention of formally declaring the group as a terrorist one. According to the US President, Antifa is to take the blame for the consequences of Trump’s inability to settle down civic unrest. Many of Antifa affiliates are held responsible for brutal protests from American Portland to France, and Germany. Moreover, recent years have brought about the group’s other face: it gained into a trained armed side. The group’s first “armed performance” took place in a civil war-torn Syria, where it had melded into the leftist terrorist structures of YPG/PKK. Meanwhile, Turkey tries to remind of a linkage existing between Antifa and a terrorist group YPG, whom America, despite a bunch of evidence provided by Turkey, sees as its ally in Syria. Neither the existence of Antifa nor its cooperation (even integration) with PKK/YPG in Syria is something new. The PKK’s antifascist International Tabur was established in Syria as part of the YPG in 2016. Antifa joined YPG (PKK’s Syrian branch) under the pretext of fighting ISIS in Syria. As mentioned before, the YPG/PKK is responsible for Antifa’s militarization. A former oil facility turned into a training camp called the Academy in the hills of north-eastern Syria, is where the training has been taking place. Fighting along with YPG became alluring for many Antifa- affiliated Western citizens akin to the ideas of far-left including communists, socialists, and anarchists. The Antifa movement is active in Syria under the umbrella of YPG at least since 2016, but the first individuals joined the YPG as early as 2012. The group-affiliates had multiply fought alongside YPG terrorist formations and Turkey had neutralized several Antifa militants in Syria during its Operation Euphrates Shield, Olive Branch, and Peace Spring. The Antifa movement not only co-sides as well as ideologically parallels with YPG/PKK terrorist formations. A recently published Daily Sabah peace sheds a light on the ideological parallels between two radical leftist formations – Antifa and YPG/ PKK. A historian Mark Bray in his book “Antifa: The Anti-Fascist Handbook” provides essential insights in this regard. According to it, both groups share a notion of libertarian municipalism and “Democratic Confederalism”; the concepts laid out by Murray Bookchin. In other words, both groups, share a similar ideological understanding of a leftist cause in a form of horizontal collective working aimed at defending and delivering social revolution. Ironically, the United States that is maybe about to declare Antifa a domestic terrorist organization, has been providing military and financial support to the group’s close ally- YPG- for years.  Suerth, Jessica. “What Is Antifa?” CNN. Cable News Network, May 31, 2020. https://edition.cnn.com/2017/08/14/us/what-is-antifa-trnd/index.html  Harp, Seth. “The Untold Story of Syria’s Antifa Platoon.” Rolling Stone. Rolling Stone, August 14, 2018. https://www.rollingstone.com/politics/politics-features/untold-story-syria-antifa-platoon-666159/  Daily Sabah. “Antifa and YPG/PKK Share Same Ideological Ground for Terrorism.” Daily Sabah. Daily Sabah, June 2, 2020. https://www.dailysabah.com/politics/antifa-and-ypgpkk-share-same-ideological-ground-for-terrorism/news
Russian Frustration with Hafter’s Weakness Despite Support Channels From Syria
The capture of Libyan Al-Watiya airbase by the Government of National Accord (GNA) gave an incentive to assume that Khalifa Haftar’s foreign allies have reduced their support to the Libyan National Army (LNA). Russia is an essential part of Haftar’s “foreign support” group. Yanvarev states that this defat gave an impetus for experts to set for stipulation a prospect of Haftar losing the support of players such as Russia, Egypt, and UAE. Meanwhile, the Syrian sources are trying to raise doubts regarding such a conclusion. Hence, TV channel Deir Ezzor 24 stated that Russian military commanders are training 35 people from the Syrian north-eastern province of Deir Ez-Zor to be sent to Libya. According to the source, Russian troops promise a salary of two thousand dollars for recruits. Furthermore, the Foreign Policy outlet states that Colonel Alexander Zorin is responsible for the recruitment process. Zorin represented the Russian Ministry of Defence in the Geneva process in 2016. He is also known as a mediator for reconciliation between government forces and oppositional groups in the Southern provinces of Syria. According to Foreign Policy’s source, in April 2020, Zorin visited Southern Syria in search of new militants for Haftar. The rapidly impoverished region of Deir ez-Zor is referred to as the cradle of mercenaries for the Libyan on-going turmoil. In July 2018, with Russian assistance, several opposition groups reached a consensus with Damascus after the US withdrew its support from them. However, this development added complications to Damascus’ long-lasting economic problems – it is not able to provide material support to the local population. The News.ru sources say that the transfer of Syrian mercenaries to Libya started in 2019. Moreover, the first group included captive (by the regime) militants of the ISIS, with whom otherwise Damascus did not know what to do. The fact that Russia could have been overseeing the transfer is not excluded by the sources. The Foreign Policy interlocutors regard recruitment of Damascus-loyal Syrians a bad idea since they are unaware of peculiarities of Libyan hostilities as well as of territories. The outlet also notices the lack of enthusiasm behind Wagner, which is known to support Haftar. Sources of Arabic Post state that there are serious disagreements between Wagner and Haftar’s commanders regarding the fulfilment of obligations and regular payments. Moreover, it is believed that after Haftar refused to observe the ceasefire agreed by Russia and Turkey, the Wagner fighters stopped participating in several “hot spots” on the Haftar’s side. As of now, they are supposedly deployed in Tobruk and Dern. Besides, the UN experts believe that currently Wagner fighters assist LNA in the repair of the technical equipment, perform the tasks of artillery officers and front-line air traffic controllers, and provide recommendations on radio-electronic countermeasures. Yanvarev concludes that the attempts of the self-proclaimed Libyan field marshal Khalifa Haftar to call for a truce in the month of Ramadan were nothing more than an acknowledgment of his weakness in the face of GNA’s increasing strength due to Turkish support. It was of crucial importance for Haftar to win time to consolidate his ground troops and convince Moscow (despite the existing misunderstandings) that he is need of help. To some extent Haftar’s failures are capable of proving wrong the hypothesis that Russia closely assists him. Moreover, Yanvarev states that the only thing LNA’s leader might account for is new cadres from Syria, since the direct Russian support is too much of a price. Source: Январёв. И, “Хафтар ставит зарубежных союзников в глупое положение”, 19 May, 2020, from https://news.ru/world/haftar-stavit-zarubezhnyh-soyuznikov-v-glupoe-polozhenie/ (Access date: 23 May, 2020)
The Economy in Regime-Controlled Syria: Hit by the Lebanese Crisis and Covid-19 pandemic
In the holistic view, the Syrian economy is suffering from conflict-related hyperinflation for years now. The World Bank estimated that Syria’s overall GDP loss from 2011 to 2016 is at $ 230 billion, while the reconstruction cost is at $390 billion. From the beginning of this year, the economic situation in the regime-held territories has significantly worsened. One year from now one American dollar equaled 600 Syrian pounds. With the inflation rate having spurred further these days, one US dollar has been traded for 1940 Syrian pounds, while the official rate announced by the Central Bank holds at 514 SYP for a dollar. Two major reasons contributed to a further devaluation of a Syrian pound and a meltdown of Damascus’ economy: The first one being the collapse of a Lebanese banking sector and the second being a COVID-19 pandemic. Regime’s economy hit by Lebanon’s Crisis Syrian currency was relatively stable for over three years following the Russian intervention at the end of 2015, yet it has never recovered to its pre-civil war value of 50 pounds for a dollar. With the U.S. and EU sanctions having been imposed on Damascus for its immense human rights violations back in 2011, the Assad regime’s access to hard currency had been largely constrained. Consequently, the dollarized economy of a neighboring Lebanon remained its sole stronghold. The Assad’s government, as well as ordinary Syrian citizens, have long-lasting ties with the Lebanese banking sector since the 1960s, when Syrian private capital fled to the country once Damascus nationalized its banks. With a political turmoil in Syria starting in 2011, even more, capital outflow from Damascus to Beirut. To elaborate, in July 2011 The Economist reported that over $20 billion had been transferred from one country to another. Furthermore, The Financial Times stated that over 80 percent of wealthy Syrians kept their financial assets in Beirut. However, after over two decades of pegging its currency to the US dollar, Lebanon is mired in debt to a point it is no longer able to peg. Moreover, the pressure put on Beirut by the West, which is fully aware of Lebanon’s non-compliance with the sanctions imposed on Damascus, should not be overlooked. As a result, Damascus is no longer able to use Lebanon to evade sanctions as it did before. This dynamic left the regime suffocating with nearly zero access to hard currency left. With such a development in Lebanon, Syrian imports became more expensive since the hard currency is needed to pay for them. This led to a fall of a Syrian pound. Despite the regime’s attempts to increase salaries and minimum wages to the citizens in regime-held areas, not much of a difference has been made to improve the lives of ordinary people. Damascus’ Economy further suffocated by COVID-19 Another problem faced by the regime’s economy is the spread of coronavirus since mid-March when the first case of disease had been officially reported. Due to the regime’s Ministry of Health’s systematic cover-ups, only 58 cases are reported and the optimistic forecast is made regarding the crisis: as of today, 36 recoveries and only 3 deaths. Despite such a rosy picture presented by Damascus regarding a spread of a global pandemic on its territories, a further economic meltdown provides a rather different reading of a situation. With the Syrian pound holding at 1000 pounds for a dollar on a black market in January 2020, it has already reached 1300 pounds for a dollar in March. It has also been reported that as a result of a spurred inflation in the last couple of months, the groceries varied in prices in 40-75 percent. Another implication of the coronavirus on the regime’s economy comes from abroad. Syria is largely dependent on the worker transmittals from some neighboring countries that are major sources of remittances to Syria, such as Saudi Arabia (29%), Lebanon (17%), Jordan (15%), and Turkey (14%). Since the lockdowns to prevent the spread of virus were declared in almost all of these countries, a disruption inflow of remittances from Syrians living abroad occurred. Already shattered by the Western sanctions and recent developments in Lebanon, Damascus’ economic condition had been further jeopardized by the social distancing measures as a result of the world pandemic. This makes some of the prominent pro-regime crony entrepreneurs lobby for a partial lifting of the restrictions. Yet, the regime’s health-care system’s devastating conditions will not be able to bear such potential risk. The regime’s Finance Minister, Mamoun Hamdan stated that Damascus will spend 100 billion pounds to fight the pandemic. With the drop in the value of a national currency, such a statement only demonstrates regime’s desperation, since the amount mentioned equals approximately $75 million (i.e. only $5 to be spent on the health of an ordinary Syrian). Such a comprehensive economic condition even led Damascus to call the US and EU for a suspension of sanctions on humanitarian grounds in the UN. Paradoxically, the latter issued a report confirming the regime’s use of chemical weapons, as well as its bombing of civilians earlier this month. Conclusion Currently, the collapse of the Lebanese banking sector, the spread of a novel coronavirus as well as previously imposed Western sanctions are major factors leading the Bashar al-Assad regime’s already dried out the economy from bad to worse. Both, the crash of Lebanese financial sector and global pandemic resulted in Damascus’ further inaccessibility to hard currency, from which it suffers from the beginning of 2011 when sanctions were imposed on it by the West. The pandemic has negative imprints on its economy from the outside rather than from within with disruption of the flow of remittances it has brought. Thus the lockdowns in many countries have shattered already hardly breathing regime’s economy by further constraining its grip on hard currency.  “Syria.” Syria Economy: Population, GDP, Inflation, Business, Trade, FDI, Corruption. Accessed May 18, 2020. https://www.heritage.org/index/country/syria “COVID-19 and the Economy in Regime-Held Syria.” FDD, April 29, 2020. https://www.fdd.org/analysis/2020/04/21/covid-19-and-economy-in-syria/  Danny Makki. “Damascus Battles Economic Collapse as the Syrian Pound Plummets.” Middle East Institute, May 18, 2020. https://www.mei.edu/publications/damascus-battles-economic-collapse-syrian-pound-plummets  “Syria’s Economy Goes from Very Bad to Worse as Lebanon’s Crisis Hits.” Middle East Eye, January 11, 2020. https://www.middleeasteye.net/news/bad-worse-syrias-financial-crisis-hit-lebanons-economic-free-fall  Cochrane, Paul. “Syria’s Economy Goes from Very Bad to Worse as Lebanon’s Crisis Hits.” Middle East Eye, January 11, 2020. https://www.middleeasteye.net/news/bad-worse-syrias-financial-crisis-hit-lebanons-economic-free-fall  “ Syria.” Worldometer. Accessed May 18, 2020. https://www.worldometers.info/coronavirus/country/syria/  Christou, Will. “Economic Disaster Looms as Coronavirus Lockdowns Reduce Remittances to Syria.” Syria Direct, April 12, 2020. https://syriadirect.org/news/coronavirus-reduces-remittances-and-threatens-to-upend-syria’s-economy/  Enab Baladi. “Syria’s Economy amidst Coronavirus Crisis…supporting Traders as Unemployment Increases and Prices Hike.” Enab Baladi, April 19, 2020. https://english.enabbaladi.net/archives/2020/04/syrias-economy-amidst-coronavirus-crisissupporting-traders-as-unemployment-increases-and-prices-hike/  Adesnik, David. “COVID-19 and the Economy in Regime-Held Syria.” FDD, April 29, 2020. https://www.fdd.org/analysis/2020/04/21/covid-19-and-economy-in-syria/  “Al-Jaafari: Syria Demands That Washington Immediately and Unconditionally Lift All Coercive Economic Measures Imposed on It.” Syrian Arab News Agency, April 1, 2020. https://sana.sy/en/?p=189198
Turkey protects and trains up to 14,400 fighters in its bases in Idlib
Turkey’s strategy to make Idlib ‘green’ again and to bolster the armed opposition against a possible future offensive by the Assad regime backed by Russia and Iran is continuing. In this context, Turkey has established a new ‘train & equip’ program for the rebels in Idlib, mainly the Syrian National Army (SNA). For example, Liwa al Shimal, the 111. Brigade of the SNA has currently 600 fighters in Idlib. 300 of them are trained in the Batbo base and the other 300 are trained in the Kafr Nasah base. In total, Turkey has 48 bases in opposition-controlled areas of Idlib but it is not clear if all of the bases have such a training program. If all of the bases are used for training, a total of 14,400 of fighters are been trained Despite the arrival of thousands of SNA fighters in Idlib over the recent period, most of them aren’t visible in Idlib’s daily life and HTS continues to dominate the region. This is due to the Turkish decision to avoid a confrontation between the Turkish-backed opposition and HTS while the first is weak. Turkey has used the momentum in Idlib to inject the SNA into Idlib, but apparently, Turkey wants to build up a proper fighting force directly under the command control of Turkey. Turkey is using its new military bases to build up a solid, structured, and trained force to balance the extremists in Idlib and to fight off against a possible future regime offensive. The Turkish ‘train & equip’ program does not only include the first three legions of the SNA, but also the NLF of the SNA. With this training program, the NLF in Idlib will be bolstered with the SNA and the NLF will become more structured to implement the unification process which was torpedoed by the clashes in Idlib with the Assad regime. The training program includes discipline training, physical exercise, and military training with weapons followed by an ideological training based upon the principles of the SNA set by the Moral Guidance Office of the SNA. This step in line with the recent steps taking by the Turkish military indicated that Turkey is aiming to transform Idlib into a de-facto safe zone. During the Operation Spring Shield, Turkey had used an ‘air-denial’ strategy against the regime forces. The deployment of MANPADS into Idlib and Atilgan air-defense systems has denied regime helicopters to fly over Idlib. Other regime air vehicles such as SU-24 an L-39 were shot down by the Turkish air force without crossing into the airspace over Idlib. Additionally, Turkey has destroyed eight regime-operated Russian air defense systems during its drone campaign against the Assad regime weakening the regime air-defense capabilities. Since the announcement of a ceasefire in Idlib on March 5, the Turkish army has strengthened its position in Idlib by further fortifying its bases, creating new bases, and sending additional reinforcements to the region. Most importantly, Turkey has deployed the HAWK air defense systems into Idlib. The most advanced operable air-defense systems Turkey has. With this deployment, Turkey’s ‘air denial’ strategy expanded from the low-attitude to the mid-attitude flights as well. However, high attitude flights still require the involvement of Turkish F-16 fighter jets. Ömer Özkizilcik
Criticism in Russia Towards The Assad Regime: Bad Economy, Corruption and Unwillingness for Political Reforms and Political Solution
It has been over a week that several Russian (mainly pro-Kremlin) media outlets started publishing pieces criticizing Bashar al-Assad and his government. The criticism mainly evolves around the Assad regime’s economic deterioration derived from the regime’s inflexibility and unwillingness to change, as well as its severe corruption. Such a development in Russia- a country that strongly sided with Damascus in the on-going crisis from the very beginning- is rather surprising and could be opened for interpretation. The pieces of Alexander Aksenyonok -a former diplomat who served in Syria under Hafez and an expert at the Valdai club- published by Kommersant.ru and Valdai club that underlined the fragility of the regime and its incapability of the reform were on the frontlines. On the other hand, RIA FAN (pro-Kremlin news outlet known to be run by Putin’s chef Prigozhin) was one of the first to start revealing articles concerning corruption in Assad-controlled Syria; having run 4-6 articles immensely criticizing Assad, most of them later disappeared. Yet, the one putting the spotlight on the money siphoning in the energy sector by Syria’s Premiere Imad Hamis still runs the front pages. Additionally, the same outlet published a survey carried out in April 2020 by a Russian state-run polling firm in Syria among 1,000 Syrians. The survey revealed Assad’s unpopularity among Syrian people with the overwhelming majority (41.3%) rating him negatively. Furthermore, 71.3% of the participants indicated corruption as the country’s major problem. Finally, Pravda.ru stood out bringing to the surface the fraudulent schemes and shadow mechanisms within Assad’s close circles; thus shared information of the most scandalous nature. Threats to the Assad regime: Economic, not Military Aksenyonok argues that the real challenge for Bashar al-Assad’s government lies in the economy, not in the terrorist threat as the latter often states. As the economic challenge faced by the regime combines a whole variety of factors: The prolonged war in the country, the financial crisis in Lebanon, US imposed sanctions, fall in global oil prices, and the latest COVID-19 crisis. By bringing up numerical data Aksenyonok demonstrates the effects of a prolonged civil war in the country on its economy. Throughout the years of the Syrian Crisis, the country’s GDP fell from $55 billion to $20 billion a year. Thus, it can be assumed that the cost of restoring Syria (that is often estimated at $250 billion) will be at least 12 of the country’s current GDP. Moreover, throughout the war, the lives of 80% of Syrians fell below the poverty level, and life length was shortened by 20 years. Apart from the long-imposed US and EU sanctions, the financial crisis in Lebanon comprehended the Syrian economy furthermore. The Lebanese banking sector, in which around a quarter of deposits belong to Syrian businesses (including the government-related ones), played the role, as Aksenyonok puts it, of a “gateway to the outside world” for Syria. Thus, with the introduction of currency restrictions in Lebanon the import of essential goods to Syria slowed down, which essentially resulted in the fall of the Syrian pound. Furthermore, the economic condition of the regime was jeopardized by the outbreak of coronavirus. With the health system having been undermined throughout the years of a political turmoil, a lack of trained medical personnel, medicines, and proper equipment, along with a high population density in the urban areas and refugee camps, makes the possible spread of the virus unbearable. Having stated this, Aksenyonok urges Damascus to assess risks adequately and to evince flexibility, since a new military reality cannot be sustainable without economic reconstruction and political reform, especially in the light of 2021 presidential elections. Yet, Aksenyonok assumes that Damascus is incapable of demonstrating flexibility and continues to rely on the military solution with the help of its allies, “as in the old days of the Soviet-American confrontation in the Middle East.” With the country being divided into spheres of external influence, the last military clashes in Idlib showed the limits of the regime’s ability in its desire to re-establish sovereignty over the entire territory. Additionally, Aksenyonok states that Assad’s main ally Russia has also reached the limit of compromise on the diplomatic track with Turkey. Hence reaching a compromise is hardly plausible with the resistance of Damascus to substantial reforms. Both unwillingness and inability of Damascus to establish a system capable of providing a transition from a “war economy” to normal trade and economic relations become more and more visible. Even in the regime-controlled territories “the laws of their own kind” are applied. Bribes from trade and transit, which benefit the human chains made up of the army and security service officials, as well as loyal to the regime entrepreneurs as well as those who have got enriched during the war. As Aksenyonok puts it, the war produced centers of influence and “shadow organizations” that are not interested in the transition to peaceful development or any kind of reform. Finally, the former diplomat and Valdai club expert Aksenyonok emphasize the need to achieve a settlement between the Syrians themselves in the international legal framework; for which Damascus does not seem to be ready at the moment. Mired in Corruption: Clan of Bashar al-Assad The pieces of a more scandalous nature, bringing up to the surface the fraudulent corruption schemes and shadow money-siphoning mechanisms within Damascus leadership, were published by RIA FAN and Pravda.ru. The latter contains the material meticulously explaining how Bashar al-Assad and his associates mired in corruption. Hence, Petr Deryabin in his article for Pravda.ru elaborates on the challenges undermining Syria’s economic situation. Yet here, the emphasis is put on the high-level corruption in the regime’s top leadership as one of the major causes behind the economy’s deterioration. Deryabin grounded his argument on several specific cases of shadow mechanisms. One of the primary examples of a corruption scheme concerns Syria’s energy sector, in which the regime’s Prime Minister Imad Khamis is the main operator. Occupying the post of Minister of Energy until 2016, he managed to build a human chain allowing him to redirect funds from gas and oil production from the state budget. Similarly, money transaction from the latest 2019 contract for the electricity supply to Lebanon fell into the analogous shadow circulation and was withdrawn abroad. The Imad Khamis’ fraud in the energy sector recently became mostly mentioned in the case of corruption in the Russian media. However, apart from it, the cases involving Bashar al-Assad’s close relatives are frequently circulating. For instance, in September 2019, a scandal broke out in the Assad family after he placed his cousin Rami Makhlouf under house arrest for inappropriate behavior of his son, Mohammed Makhlouf, for boating of the family wealth in social media. The Makhlouf family is related to Assad through his mother Anissa Makhlouf. The aforementioned Rami Makhlouf owns mobile communication monopoly Syriatel and Cham Holding, which includes tourism enterprises, restaurants, real estate, the first private Syrian airline Syrian Pearl, as well as several private banks, such as Islamic bank of Syria, International Bank of Qatar, Cham bank, and Bank of Jordan. The Assad’s “corruption list is not limited to the aforementioned cases involving figures such as Hafez Makhlouf, Maher Assad, Katharaji brothers, and more; on the affairs of which Russian media have started systematically elaborating on. Even though some Russian outlets have significantly departed from their traditional “treatment” of Damascus, none of them undermines its legitimacy but rather blames it for a current economic decline. By doing so, they (i.e. Russian outlets) refer to the regime’s excessive reliance on the military solution and allies as well as its unwillingness (or incapability) to make any essential step neither towards a political solution of the crisis nor towards normalization of the economy. Sources: Александр Аксенёнок, «Дамаск должен адекватно оценивать риски», Коммерсантъ, 17 April 2020, retrieved from https://www.kommersant.ru/doc/4324084 , (Access date: 21 April, 2020) Alexander Aksenyonok, “War, the Economy and Politics in Syria: Broken Links”, Valdai Discussion club, 17 April 2020, retrieved from https://valdaiclub.com/a/highlights/war-the-economy-and-politics-in-syria-broken-links/ , (Access date: 21 April, 2020) Петр Дерябин, “Клан Башара Асада: как семья президента Сирии погрязла в коррупции”, Pravda.ru, 14 April 2020, retrieved from https://www.pravda.ru/world/1488754-Syria_corruption/ , (Access date: 21 April, 2020) “Коррупция в сирийском правительстве оставила тысячи людей без света”, Pravda.ru, 13 April 2020, retrieved from https://www.pravda.ru/news/world/1488424-Syria/ , (Access date: 21 April, 2020) Валентин Иванов, “Коррупция в правительстве Сирии разрушает экономику страны”, RIA FAN, 13 April 2020, retrieved from https://riafan.ru/1267487-korrupciya-v-pravitelstve-sirii-razrushaet-ekonomiku-strany , (Access date: 21 April, 2020) https://drive.google.com/file/d/1QzVbIJXFFkpZVBoRHDculC906WHgP4Q5/view
Russia’s Arms Supply: Assad over Israel’s security
It is in the early-2000s that Russian cooperation with Syria was resumed and started being evolved in areas varying from economic and trade deals to military and arms agreements. Yet, for the most of the last decade, Russia took a very contradictory role in terms of its modest arms supply to Syria; with the latter expressing its vast interest in expanding the arms transfer deals. Moscow’s hesitations were primarily derived from its relations with Tel Aviv and were to some extent overcome by the late 2000s. The eruption of the Syrian crisis had changed the military relations between Russia and the Assad regime and resulted in even deeper cooperation. Thus, despite Russia’s relationship with Israel, Moscow has significantly deepened its alignment with the Assad regime. With its military intervention on behalf of Assad in 2015, Russia has manifested its engagement in Syria. This intervention served as a hallmark for Russia’s consolidation of its physical presence in the country as well as its enhancement of military/arms deals between it and the Assad regime. The Israel factor was finally overcome by Russia in late 2018 when shooting down of the Russian plane served as a trigger for Moscow to provide full-fledged arms procurement to the regime. Restricted by Israel: Traditional Russian arms deliveries to Syria: Russian-Assad regime military-technical cooperation includes both arms procurement (transfers) and security (military) assistance. Having inherited a long history of cooperation on the matter from the Soviet times, the relations in the military field were resumed in the mid-2000s and increased with the Syrian War, especially with the Russian intervention. Syria’s arms procurement attempts in the early and mid-2000s having been often jeopardized by Moscow’s relations with Tel Aviv. Many arms procurements were overcome by the end of the decade with Assad succeeding in the purchase of Buk-2M Ural medium-range theatre defense missiles, GM 39 Igla fire-and-forget surface-to-air missile (SAM) system, Tunguska SAMs, MiG-29SMT fighter aircraft, Pantsir S1E air-defense systems. Additionally to the arms transfer deals, Russia and Syria launched a security assistance program by reviving the Tartus Naval base in 2009 and launching the Hmeymim airbase. Moscow popping up arms deliveries into Syria In May 2005, Russian and the regime’s finance ministers signed an agreement nearly annulling the regime’s debt owed to Russia. The agreement included Russia’s consent of dropping 73% (nearly $9, 8 billion) of total debt with the remaining 27% ($3, 6 billion) of it going towards joint water, oil, gas, and other industrial projects. This generosity by Moscow was based on its desire to resume its more active cooperation with the country and consequently reacquire its physical presence in the region. This development is a strong contrast to the past where Russia hesitated to deliver arms transfers to Syria, while the latter was paying enormous efforts at the negotiations table. For instance, repeated Syrian requests to procure Russian S-300 PMU self-propelled SAM system, aircraft MIG 29 Fulcrums and MIG-31 have not been met. This was based on the claim of Kremlin’s “unwillingness to upset the balance of power in the Middle East”, yet was simply a result of a strong Tel Aviv’s pressure on Moscow. Additionally, Israel managed to convince Kremlin to block its sales of the Iskander-E missile batteries to Syria; the batteries were capable of sending conventional or chemical weapons payloads deep into Israel in case of a war. In 2006, Russia was committed to modernize and repair military hardware used by the Syrian army and continued to train Syrian military personnel at the senior officer level. By 2006 about 10,000 Syrian officers had received training at either Soviet or Russian military academies. Furthermore, as of 2006, up to 2000 Russian military advisors were serving in the country’s military.  The aforementioned Kremlin’s “minor steps” towards Damascus, in terms of arms supplies, were undertaken in 2006-2007 when Russia resumed its arms transfers to Syria by delivering the vehicle mount variant of Russian Kolomna KBM Strelets multiple launch units for use with the GM 39 Igla fire-and-forget surface-to-air missile (SAM) system and Tunguska SAMs.  On the verge of 2008-2009 Syria finally succeeded at purchasing several weapons from Russia that varied from modern anti-tank to anti-air missile systems. Hence, Syria upgraded its air defense capability with new Buk-2M Ural medium-range theatre defense missiles, MiG-29SMT fighter aircraft and the first batches of the Pantsir-S1 short-range self-propelled air defense system procured from Russia. However, since the outbreak of the Syrian War, Moscow has popped up its arms deliveries to the Assad regime vehemently. For instance, in January 2012, Rosoboronexport –Russia’s arms export monopoly- agreed to sell Syria 36 new Yak-130 combat trainer aircraft, which started being delivered in 2013. Furthermore, the arms procurement reached its culmination in the second half of 2018, when the Assad regime started receiving its long-wanted S-300 long-range surface-to-air missile systems. This brings about questions of whether Russia was no longer interested in “sustaining a balance of power in the region” as it did before and whether it’s omnipresent concern over Israel disappeared. What stood behind Russia’s disregard towards Israel this time? It was an accidental downing of a Russian military plane by the Assad regime that was trying to repel an Israeli air attack, performed by four F-16 jets, on Latakia on 18 September 2018. Consequently, the Il-20 plane was downed over the Mediterranean Sea, carrying the death of 15 Russian personnel. Not surprisingly, Russia held Israel directly accountable for the accident and hence provided a shaking response by upgrading the Syrian air defense system. Russia has started its S-300 anti-aircraft missiles deliveries to Syria within only two weeks after Russian reconnaissance aircraft Il-20 was shot down. The Russian side declared that its delivery of the S-300 system, which is capable of intercepting air attack weapons at ranges of more than 250 km simultaneously hitting several air targets, was based on the assumption of constraining the actions of Israeli aviation. A New Era? 2017 Agreements on Tartus and Hmeymim Before the Syrian war erupted, Russian-Syrian naval cooperation was renewed and deepened. From the Soviets, Russia inherited its sole stronghold in the Eastern Mediterranean, which remains the only Russian naval facility outside of the territory of the former Soviets; a small logistics base for its Navy in Tartus. From 2009 onwards the logistical facility in Tartus is being expanded with the Russian engineers having rebuilt depot to cope with more traffic and larger ships. Finally, the Syrian Crisis served as an impetus for the launch of a Russian Hmeymim air defense facility in 2015, hence reversing the course of the events in the crisis. In 2017, treaties were signed establishing Tartus and Hmeymim facilities to have a permanent Russian presence for roughly (at least) the next 50 years, of course, if the second party –the regime- is to survive ongoing mayhem. The signed agreement allows Russia to expand the Tartus naval facility for 49 years and to prolong for 25-year periods on a free-of-charge basis. Additionally, according to the same agreement, Russia is to enjoy a sovereign jurisdiction over the base with full immunity granted to the Russian personnel and material at the facility. Over 11 Russian ships, including nuclear vessels, are to stop at the Tartus facility on the permanent grounds. The 2017 agreement –to be precise a protocol to an amended 2015 agreement- covered the Hmeymim airbase. The Hmeymim airbase that is currently operated by Russia is located in the southeast of Latakia and shares an airfield with Bassel Al-Assad International Airport. The Hmeymim air base’s legal ground is an agreement between Russia and the Assad regime of August 2015. The base was built in mid-August 2015 for a purpose of serving as a “strategic center for Russian military intervention in the Syrian War” became operational on 30 September 2015. Similarly, the agreement envisaged 49 year-long Russia’s presence on the Hmeymim base with a possible extension for the subsequent 25 year-long period. Similarly, the treaty protocol set about the permanency of the Russian presence on both naval base of Tartus and aerodrome Hmeymim. As of November 2015 onwards, the combined Russian-Syrian Air Defense force was deployed in the war zone comprises Pantsir-S1 (SS-22 Greyhound) close-in SAM/AA systems, Osa-AKM (SA-8 Gecko), S-125 Pechora-2M (SA-3 Goa) short-range (SHORAD) SAM systems, Buk-M2E (SA-17 Grizzly) medium-range SAM systems, S-200VE Vega (SA-5 Gammon), S-400 Triumph long-range SAM systems. The SAM-air defense in Hmeymim airbase is composed of multiple layers. The first one of which is laid out by the S-400 and S-200 VE long-range systems. The second one is delivered by the S-300 FM Fort0M and Buk-M2E medium-range systems. It is further furnished by the Osa-AKM and S-125 Pechora-2M SHORAD systems. In the end, Pantsir-S1 is to provide coverage for the base. Conclusion Russia’s firm stance taken in the Syrian Crisis along with its decisive military intervention in 2015 enabled the Assad regime to finally procure the arms it could not for most of the 2000s. After being restricted by Tel Aviv in terms of its arms supply to Damascus, Russia finally managed to overcome the Israel factor in the middle of the Syrian Crisis. In particular, Moscow’s respect for Tel Aviv’s security concerns minimized with the accidental shutdown of Russian Il-20 in 2018 that triggered multiply postponed delivery of S-300s to Syria. On the other hand, the Syrian War gave a new breath to the revival of the Russian military presence in the region; the presence that is defined by its naval facility in Tartus and airbase Hmeymim. Both of the facilities being legally grounded on the aforementioned 2017 agreements foresee Russia’s ability to conserve its strongholds on the Eastern Mediterranean for at least the next 49 years. Thus, fulfill Russia’s permanent desire- access to the warm waters. Hence, an ongoing Syrian turmoil opened a window of opportunity for Russia to realize this innate interest. It is the Syrian Crisis that served as a solid ground for Russia to install its physical presence in the Middle East.  “Russia defends arms sales to Syria”, UPI, 29 September, 2008, from https://www.upi.com/Top_News/2008/09/29/Russia-defends-arms-sales-to-Syria/28611222726785/?ur3=1 (Access date: retrieved 8 March, 2020)  Ibid.  Ibid.  ‘Annual Defense Report: The Middle East and Africa”, Jane’s Defense Weekly, 14 December 2009.  Andrej Kreutz, “Syria: Russia’s Best Asset in the Middle East”, IFRI, pp. 18-21  Vasiliev 2018, p.387.  A. Konovalov, “Russia: Defense Ministry Rules Out Supplying Offensive Weapons to Syria”, TASS, 25 January 2005.  U. Klussman, “An old Base/Friendship Gets a Facelift”, Der Spiegel, 22 June 2006.  “Syria Receives First Strelets SAM”, Jane’s Defense Weekly, 23 August 2006  “Syria”, INSS, 19 October 2010, from http://www.inss.org.il/upload/(FILE)1287493352.pdf (Access date: 10 March, 2020)  M. Hassington, “Syria receives First Batch of Pantsir Air Defenses”, Jane’s Information group-International Defense Review, 6 June 2008.  “Russia defends arms sales to Syria”, UPI, 29 September, 2008, https://www.upi.com/Top_News/2008/09/29/Russia-defends-arms-sales-to-Syria/28611222726785/?ur3=1 (Access date: 8 March, 2020)  “Russia sells 36 fighter jets to Syria”, The Times, 23 January 2012, https://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/russia-sells-36-fighter-jets-to-syria-xtxknvgtmnr (Access date: 10 March, 2020)  “Russian aircrew deaths: Putin and Netanyahu defuse tension”, BBC News, 18 September, 2018, from, https://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-45563304 (Access date: 10 March, 2020)  Ibid.  “S-300 missile system: Russia upgrades Syrian air defences”, BBC News, 2 October, 2018, from https://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-45723503 (Access date: 10 March, 2020)  “Россия передаст Сирии комплексы С-300 в ответ на инцидент с Ил-20”, BBC News, 24 September, 2018, from https://www.bbc.com/russian/news-45624098 (Access date: 10 March, 2020)  Kreuz, “”Сирия: главный российский козырь на Ближнем Востоке”, IFRI: Novemeber 2010, pp. 22-24  Ibid.  “Moscow cements deal with Damascus to keep 49-year presence at Syrian naval and air bases”, TASS, 20 January 2017, https://tass.com/defense/926348 (Access date: 8 March, 2020)  “Moscow cements deal with Damascus to keep 49-year presence at Syrian naval and air bases”, TASS, 20 January 2017, https://tass.com/defense/926348 (Access date: 8 March 2020)  “Путин внес в ГД соглашение о расширении пункта обеспечения ВМФ в Тартусе”, РИА Новости, 13 December, 2017, https://ria.ru/20171213/1510800603.html (Access date: 8 March 2020)  “Договор о размещении авиагруппы РФ в САР заключен на бессрочный период”, РИА Новости, 14 January, 2016, https://ria.ru/20160114/1359734984.html (Access date: 8 March 2020)  “Moscow cements deal with Damascus to keep 49-year presence at Syrian naval and air bases”, TASS, 20 January 2017, https://tass.com/defense/926348 (Access date: 8 March 2020)  “Russia establishing permanent presence at its Syrian bases: RIA”, Reuters, 26 December, 2017, https://www.reuters.com/article/us-mideast-crisis-syria-russia-bases/russia-establishing-permanent-presence-at-its-syria-bases-ria-cites-minister-idUSKBN1EK0HD (Access date: 8 March 2020)  “Three layers of Russian air defense at hmeymim air base in Syria”, TASS, 26 February, 2016, https://tass.com/defense/855430 (Access date: 9 March, 2020)  Ibid.