After Russia’s military intervention in Syria in September 2015, Syrian government forces advanced into key cities and areas controlled by the armed opposition forces. For example, Syrian government forces took control over most of Aleppo from rebel groups in 2016. Turkey and Russia brokered a ceasefire agreement between the Syrian regime and the opposition in Ankara, Turkey on December 29, 2016. Following that agreement, civilians were evacuated from eastern Aleppo and provided a safe exit. After that, Russia focused its efforts on building a coalition of  players in Astana, Kazakhstan’s capital. They launched the Astana process in January 2017 with Turkey, Iran and Russia as the guarantors of  the Astana Process.

The first round of Astana meetings announced the establishment of a tripartite mechanism to monitor full compliance with the 2016, December 29th ceasefire agreement , and also to prevent any provocations and establish all mechanisms for implementing the truce. Two documents were announced, that represented an additional protocol to the cessation of hostilities agreement. These specified the conditions and obligations that parties needed to adhere to when providing humanitarian corridors and exchanging detainees.

The second round of Astana meetings discussed the formation of a tripartite working group of guarantors to monitor the cessation of hostilities and the formation of a mechanism for the exchange of detainees between regime forces and the armed opposition. The differences between the three guarantors were wide and there were continued violations of the ceasefire on the ground.

The Syrian opposition boycotted the third round of Astana negotiations due to the lack of commitment of the Syrian government forces and its allies to stop the hostilities. This third round of Astana meetings affirmed the agreement of the guarantors to form committees to monitor the ceasefire and violations, and called on the committees to follow up on the humanitarian aid issue, and the establishment of committees for the issues on prisoners and detainees.

This round resulted in the agreement on establishing de-escalation zones. The Astana guarantors signed a memorandum of understanding on the establishment of de-escalation zones in areas of Syria that included the entire governorates of Idlib, Latakia, Aleppo, and parts of Hama, Homs, Daraa and Quneitra, in addition to Eastern Ghouta in Damascus countryside.

The guarantor countries agreed to form a working group to delineate the borders of the de-escalation zones in Syria. They announced a new round of talks at the beginning of August, yet these were held in September. The Russian negotiator announced that the agreement on the de-escalation zones in Syria had not been finalized and acknowledged that there were difficulties regarding the demarcation of borders, with the documents governing how to establish monitoring forces and rules for the use of weapons.

The final statement of the Astana negotiations stipulated defining the de-escalation zones in Syria as a temporary measure for six months. It included Eastern Ghouta in Damascus countryside and fully or partially the governorates of Idlib, Homs, Latakia, Aleppo and Hama. The final statement stated that the guarantor countries would deploy forces in those areas. It also called on the parties to release detainees as a confidence building measure.

This round included indirect negotiations between the Syrian regime, the opposition, delegations of guarantors, and several observer countries. The Syrian opposition presented documents on the demographic changes and the forced displacement carried out by the Syrian government and Iranian militias.

One of the results of this round of the talks was the strengthening and protection of de-escalation zones, and the increase of security observation points from 12 to 16 points in Idlib. The guarantor countries confirm their intention to cooperate with the aim of holding the Syrian National Dialogue Conference in Sochi on January 29 and 30, 2018, with the participation of all the components of Syrian society.

The Presidents of the Islamic Republic of Iran, the Russian Federation and the Republic of Turkey released a joint statement after their meeting in Astana on March 16, 2018 and also released a joint statement after their meeting in Ankara on 4 April 2018.

One of the results of this round was the strengthening and protection of de-escalation zones. The guarantor agreed to continue working on the de-escalation zones and protecting them, and to protect the ceasefire. The guarantors of the Astana process agreed to hold their next meeting in the Russian city of Sochi in July, and they agreed to hold the third meeting of the detainees’ working group in Ankara in June. The guarantor agreed to hold consultations with the UN Special Envoy for Syria and the Syrian parties to prepare to launch the constitutional committee in Geneva.

This round was held in the Russian city of Sochi. It was devoted to protecting the de-escalation zones and agreeing on the proportions of each team in the Constitutional Committee. They needed to take into consideration the UN proposal about three equal delegations (Government, Opposition, and civil society), and prepare for an agreement on Idlib, and discuss the detainees and refugees issues.

This round was held in Astana and the guarantors decided to step up joint efforts to prevent violations of the ceasefire in Idlib.  The guarantors supported the Syrian actors in order to accelerate efforts to form the Constitutional Committee.

The negotiations welcomed the mutual release of detainees in batches of 10 people on November 24, 2018 between the regime and the opposition. The guarantors stressed the need to create the necessary conditions for the voluntary and safe return of refugees and displaced persons to their homes. The guarantors expressed their readiness to work with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees to convene an international conference for the return of Syrian refugees and displaced persons to their homes.

This round concluded while there were continued hints by the Syrian regime and its Iranian ally of launching military operations in the Idlib province in northern Syria.

The guarantor countries agreed on the need to implement the ceasefire in Idlib and emphasized   the need to fight terrorist organizations.

This round was held in conjunction with the work of the Constitutional Committee in Geneva, Switzerland. It discussed the development of the political process.

The most prominent issue in this round was discussing the Syrian Constitutional Committee and the importance of continuing CC meetings.

During this round, participants discussed the humanitarian situation, the delivery of aid to Syria, the Constitutional Committee, a political solution, and the recent situation in Idlib, as well as the fight against terrorism, especially terrorist organizations. Participants stressed the need to increase humanitarian aid. The guarantors also stressed the need to find a political solution to the crisis in Syria based on  Security Council Resolution No. 2254, and the importance of holding the sixth round of the Constitutional Committee.

This round was held in the Kazakh capital, Nur-Sultan, with participation of the Syrian opposition delegation, the Syrian regime delegation, and representatives of the guarantor countries (Turkey, Russia and Iran). The final statement carried a number of affirmations, from the independence, unity and sovereignty of the Syrian territories, in addition to the important role of the Constitutional Committee meetings in Geneva. The recent escalation in Idlib province was also discussed.

This round was held in the Kazakh capital, Nur-Sultan, in the presence of the delegations of the Syrian opposition, the Syrian Government, and representatives of the guarantor states. They issued a final statement in which they affirmed the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Syria. The statement stressed ensuring de-escalation around the Idlib region. The statement also called for supporting the improvement of the humanitarian situation in Syria, progress in the political  process, and increased assistance inside Syria through the implementation of early recovery projects.

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