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Syria’s Earthquake Shakes Up Regional Stalemate – Geopolitical Futures - 08.03.23

Several Arab neighbours have grown weary of efforts to isolate the regime says Caroline D. Rose.

The Feb. 6 earthquake in Turkey and Syria is a formidable and complex humanitarian crisis. The death of more than 47,000 people and destruction of homes and infrastructure have devastated the region, particularly war-torn Syria, where access to basic services, humanitarian aid and financial assistance was already hampered.

Regional neighbors have rushed to respond to the crisis, sending resources, rescue teams, equipment and financial aid. And the Syrian regime, in a rare move, allowed humanitarian assistance to cross two additional border crossings. But these decisions came with political strings attached. While the Assad regime has sought to use the devastation as an opportunity to secure sanctions relief, neighboring states that have been toying with engagement for years are flooding Damascus with phone calls, new commitments and high-level engagements, creating greater momentum for normalization with Syria.

What the Syrian Regime Wants

Nearly 12 years after the outbreak of Syria’s civil war, things have been looking up for the Assad regime. With the backing of Russian forces and Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, the Syrian army has reconsolidated most of the country’s territories under its control. Syria’s Fourth Division and army forces have begun pushing farther into the southern areas of Suwayda and Daraa, regaining local control and setting up a security presence.

In the country’s northeast, where the U.S. presence appears more tentative in the face of repeated Turkish offensives, the regime has made strides in arranging under-the-table security deals with the Kurds and Turks, broadening their presence and leverage there. And while there have been sporadic anti-government protests and clashes, the regime’s nearly 12-year track record of quelling all forms of dissent has ensured the Assad family’s political survival – reflected in the recent (and fixed) presidential elections, in which Bashar Assad won a fourth term with 95.1 percent of the vote.

Still, things are not all sunshine and daisies in Damascus. International sanctions and relative diplomatic isolation have mounted serious pressure on Syria’s economy. In January, the Syrian pound hit a new low of 7,000 per U.S. dollar, compounded by spiraling inflation, fuel shortages and the economic crisis in neighboring Lebanon.

Syria’s largest oil fields are controlled by U.S.-backed Kurdish groups in the northeast, while Iran has slowed its oil shipments to the country. Even though many regime officials have personally profited from patronage networks and informal revenue streams like the illicit captagon trade, the government is still seeking relief from the weight of sanctions.

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Syria’s Earthquake Shakes Up Regional Stalemate – by Caroline D
. Rose for Geopolitical Fut

Caroline Rose is a Senior Analyst and Head of the Power Vacuums program in the Human Security Unit at the New Lines Institute, where she focuses on contested territories, displacement, ungoverned spaces, and risks to human security. Prior to joining the New Lines Institute, Caroline served as an analyst at the forecasting firm and publication, Geopolitical Futures, where she worked on political, economic, and defense developments in the Middle East and Europe. She is also the author of a special policy report on the Captagon drug trade–a culmination of her studies and field work as Research Associate for the LSE International Drug Policy Unit’s Middle East Initiative.

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