Russia, Turkey take ownership of resolving Syria conflict

Amina Hamawy, a Syrian woman, cries after she returned to her looted home in the Hanano district of eastern Aleppo, in this file photo. (AP)
Updated 30 December 2016

Russia, Turkey take ownership of resolving Syria conflict

WASHINGTON: Almost six months since their summer meeting to achieve closer ties, Russian President Vladimir Putin and his Turkish counterpart Recep Tayyip Erdogan took another step toward that goal by brokering a new cease-fire deal in Syria, to be followed by political talks to try to resolve the six-year-long conflict.
The deal — announced simultaneously by the governments of Turkey, Syria and Russia — is a seven-point package aimed at a nationwide cease-fire set to begin at midnight Friday, and offers a path to peace talks a month later.
The draft, as leaked by Turkish broadcaster TRT, excludes UN-designated terrorist groups Daesh and Al-Nusra Front (now Jabhat Fateh Al-Sham) from the cease-fire, and assigns Moscow and Ankara the roles of guarantors of the deal. In that role, Russia and Turkey are to make sure the Syrian regime and the rebels adhere to their parts of the deal, and agree to delivering humanitarian aid to all besieged areas.
It is also, according to the deal, up to Russia and Turkey to “present an appropriate mechanism to monitor the cease-fire based on UN frameworks after the parties agree to these terms.” Political negotiations are scheduled for Jan. 29 in Kazakhstan, with regional and international participation.

Can Russia, Turkey deliver?
The new cease-fire is similar in content and objectives to previous cease-fires brokered by the US or UN in the last five years, only to fail due to violations and lack of enforcement.
This attempt by Russia and Turkey could be different, however, due to the fact that both Moscow and Ankara “have the ability to deliver the regime and many rebel groups in the north, respectively” said Andrew Tabler, a fellow and expert on Syria at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.
Russia announced that seven rebel groups have signed on to the deal, while both the Syrian regime and the political opposition coalition welcomed the agreement.
Tabler told Arab News that the new cease-fire “has been on the cards for a while following Russian-Turkish understanding last August,” and that Moscow’s plan “was to help the regime take Aleppo and then to go into talks.” Syrian President Bashar Assad has described his Aleppo victory as a “turning point” in the conflict.
This agreement is also different in that it sidelines the US and shifts geopolitical leverage and weight in the Syrian conflict toward the East, with Turkey and Russia as main sponsors, and Astana (instead of Geneva) as a host for the future talks. These talks will reportedly involve Egypt, Iran, Qatar, Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Russia, along with representatives from both the regime and the opposition.
Sidelining the US is a result of “Russia not wanting to deal with an (Obama) administration that couldn’t ‘de-marble’ rebels” and further separate them along the lines of moderates and extremists, said Tabler.
“The US used a diplomatic dance in the last year to get humanitarian relief and a cease-fire for targeting terrorist groups, but it didn’t work, so Russia went to Turkey in its hour of need after the (failed) July coup, and at a moment when they became enraged at the US.”

Loopholes, implementation
While both Russia and Turkey carry plenty of weight and leverage in the Syrian conflict, the new cease-fire deal comes with many loopholes that could derail its implementation, says Aaron Stein, a resident senior fellow at the Atlantic Council’s Rafik Hariri Center for the Middle East.
“There are a lot of loopholes that Russia can exploit, which makes it too early to tell if this attempt will be more successful than other attempts,” Stein told Arab News. Major doubts involve the implementation of the agreement, “for lacking an enforcement mechanism and isolating Jabhat Fateh Al-Sham, which is the backbone of the Idlib insurgency. The task of separating it from other rebel groups will be extremely difficult.”
In this context, “Russia is succeeding in shaping the insurgency to allow for expanded military operations in Idlib” after Aleppo. Another hiccup in the deal, said Stein, is it does not address the main Kurdish groups, including the YPG and PYD, which control territory in Syria.
This gives the advantage to Russia, he said, because “it will never abandon the PKK (Kurdistan Workers’ Party) card, and will have a wonderful tool to drive a wedge between the US and Turkey, two NATO allies.”
Tabler and Stein agree that the cease-fire gives Russia and Turkey an upper hand in steering the Syrian conflict, although the messy ground dynamics of the war and its many actors make a settlement in the short-term very unlikely.

Companies must deploy AI to transform industries: Mubadala deputy CEO

Updated 13 min 2 sec ago

Companies must deploy AI to transform industries: Mubadala deputy CEO

  • ‘One of the mega trends you see around the world is that preferences matter’
  • ‘We have to change the way we view technology’

DUBAI: The next wave of value creation in the business world will not come from companies that develop artificial intelligence (AI), but from those that can innovatively deploy technology to transform industries, Waleed Al-Muhairi, deputy CEO of Mubadala Investment Co., said on Tuesday at the first Middle East SALT conference.

The two-day event is taking place in Abu Dhabi, and is run by former White House communications director Anthony Scaramucci.

It is hosting more than 1,000 leaders from the worlds of investment, finance and policymaking at the city’s financial hub, the Abu Dhabi Global Market.

Discussing Mubadala’s partnerships with China, the UAE’s largest trading partner, Al-Muhairi referred to billion-dollar investments in China’s private and public sectors.

“We have a wonderful partnership with China. We’ve established a $10 billion fund there with the China Development Bank, and have deployed almost $2 billion in 15 to 16 different sectors, with technology being the main theme,” he said.

Mubadala currently has $240 billion of assets under management, with close to $100 billion invested in the US (60 percent of the state-owned holding company’s portfolio).

The remaining 40 percent is divided “almost” equally between investments in the UAE, Europe and Asia, “with a heavy concentration in China,” said Al-Muhairi.

“But our objective is to participate in the growth and success of a large, growing and dynamic economy like China’s,” he said, adding that it is only a matter of time before the country becomes the “largest economy on Earth.”

On technology, Al-Muhairi cited Asia-focused private equity firm Hill House, which transformed a mid-level athletic footwear company in China to the No. 1 brand in the country through the deployment of AI.

The company applied the expertise of 50 scientists and engineers to revolutionize the manufacturing process of footwear, while subsequently improving the brand’s retail experience.

By placing censors on the shelves to detect customers’ interest in buying specific footwear, they were able to shorten the cycle of understanding customer feedback and preference, said Al-Muhairi.

“One of the mega trends you see around the world is that preferences matter. And those business that are able to curate a customized experience for customers are going to be the ones who succeed, especially in the retail industry,” he added.

While people often refer to technology as a “sector,” Al-Muhairi believes it is similar to the concept of “electricity” in that it empowers projects and is infused in everything we do today.

“We have to change the way we view technology,” he said, adding that while it is the “life-blood of any successful company” and the “single most important enabler,” it is not an objective in itself. 

“We don’t invest in technology for the sake of technology. We invest in it because it will transform something or it will create value and a return,” he said.