The Battle of Berlin started on the 16th of April 1945. By then it was clear that Nazi Germany was a spent force and would lose the war. The Soviet Army won decisively in the final major battle in the European theatre of war on the 2nd of May 1945. On the 9th of May, Germany surrendered. This day remains the most important day in the Russian civic calendar.
But as the Soviet Army fought the last of the German fascist soldiers, the other allied forces, Britain, America and the Free French, were also racing towards Berlin.
Although technically on the same side, the western allies were often sceptical of full cooperation with the Soviet Union. Indeed, this is why many in Britain, were happy to appease Hitler prior to 1939.
Many in western and central Europe felt that a fascist Europe was preferable to a strong, independent Soviet Union.
Although the Yalta Conference held in February of 1945 determined that each victor would have post-war spheres of influence, it was still important to the western allies to ‘meet the Red Army in Berlin’ once it became abundantly clear that the Soviet forces would take the city first.
Something similar is happening in Syria. As it was by the turn of 1945, it is now all but inevitable that the Salifsts in Syria will be defeated and that Assad will not be deposed.
What is happening now is a race to shape the peace, just as it was in Germany in the spring of 1945.
The current battle to win the peace includes the following factions:
- Syria on the side of maintaining a secular unitary Syrian Arab Republic.
- Russia and Iran also want to maintain Syria’s political and territorial integrity.
- Kurds seek a Federal Syria with copious amounts of Kurdish autonomy (there are some sympathies to this in certain Russian quarters).
- Turkey seeks Balkanise, occupy and ultimately annex parts of Syria. Many in the Turkish regime still salivate at the thought of deposing President Assad.
- The United States is competing for its own sphere of influence that will seek to weaken Assad, strengthen the Kurds and possibly offer some concessions to Erdogan’s Turkey, though this last part is speculative at this time.
Because of the ill intentions for Syrian unity, peace and integrity on the part of Turkey and the United States, it is imperative for Russia and Iran to emphasise that the federalisation of Syria is totally off the table.
The Kurdish issue in Syria is best addressed at a national rather than international level. To that end it should be done so at a later date and in a way that is not bound up with a post-war settlement for Syria.
If a sympathetic party, namely Russia, who can talk reasonably with both Damascus and the Kurds wants to mediate such talks at a later stage, I cannot see anything wrong with that.
But for now, it is important to restore peace on terms that do not weaken a country that is being invaded and occupied from all geographical and geo-political directions.
In this sense, it is Putin and not The Donald nor the Sultan who holds the Trump card. Turkey is loathed by Syria for being an aggressive terrorist state. Iran and the Kurds have their own disputes, which means that Iran probably couldn’t be a go-between for Damascus and the SDF.
America started the war by funding radical Salifist terrorists and now under Trump, America seems to be only aligned with the Kurdish forces. America is in this sense late to the party and may well lose the Syrian version of the race to Berlin, just as America, Britain and France lost the race in 1945.
If Russia cannot seize this nettle and dictate the terms of the peace, it will be a colossal blow to Russian international prestige after years of rebuilding it. It will also of course be a tragedy for Syria and her besieged people.