Crossroads Asia

Update: Will Kazakh and Kyrgyz Troops Keep the Peace in Syria?

The story continues to develop with denials, open doors, and the tangled web of international diplomacy.

Update: Will Kazakh and Kyrgyz Troops Keep the Peace in Syria?
Credit: UN Photo/Rick Bajornas

Yesterday, I wrote about comments made by Turkish and Russian officials about the possibility of deploying Kazakh and Kyrgyz soldiers to maintain peace within theoretical de-escalation zones in Syria. Predictably, as the news broke, Astana and Bishkek pushed back.

Kazakh Foreign Minister Kairat Abdrakhmanov said “Kazakhstan is not negotiating with anyone about sending its service personnel to Syria.” The secretary of Kyrgyzstan’s security council said the issue of sending peacekeepers had been raised within the the CSTO, but no formal proposals had been considered. Meanwhile, additional Russian officials confirmed that such discussions were, in some form, underway.

Joshua Kucera, writing for EurasiaNet, pointed out that the CSTO has been gearing up to potentially participate in peacekeeping operations, but with the stipulation that such an extra-regional deployment would occur with the backing of a UN resolution.

It’s worth noting, in this regard, that the UN Security Council has proven unable to come to agreement on several major resolutions pertaining to Syria. Russia, which holds a permanent seat on the council, has vetoed four resolutions regarding the Middle East since October 2016: two on halting the bombing of Aleppo and two pertaining to chemical weapons use by the Syrian regime.

The latter two occurred earlier this year, after Kazakhstan took up its non-permanent seat on the council. In both votes, Kazakhstan abstained. In abstaining, the Kazakh representatives urged the council to come together to present a unified front, citing lack of consensus on both occasions.

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Getting to consensus on this matter is going to be near impossible. The Syrian government has rejected the idea of the UN or “international forces” monitoring the so-called de-escalation zones. The CSTO has never engaged in this kind of mission and has, as Kucera explained, previously been rather strident about the necessity of a UN mandate for any kind of peacekeeping mission. And the UN Security Council is hopelessly deadlocked when considering the subject of Syria.

Still, Astana’s continued role (even if it is simply as host) in the ongoing peace talk process may lead to a change in Kazakhstan’s stance on the issue. As I noted yesterday, Bashar al-Assad’s government may change its tune on “international forces” if Moscow is leading the push. Because much of the deadlocking of the UNSC stems from Russian vetoes, a Russian-proposed CSTO peacekeeping mission wouldn’t run into Moscow’s “nay.”

Then again, there are four other veto-wielding countries to muck up the works and Russia’s pet Eurasian defense alliance deploying to the territory of a Russian proxy may not sound like that great of a plan in Paris, London and Washington.

As far-out as this proposal seems, it’s worth watching what happens during the next round of Kazakh-hosted peace talks, scheduled to take place in Astana on July 10.