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Executive Summary for March 17th

We review the key developments in Syria, including the Kurdish plan to declare a federal region in the country’s north on Thursday, the first speed bumps for the resumed peace talks in Geneva and a Reuters analysis that claims Russia has pulled nearly half of its air force out of the country.

Published on March 17, 2016 Read time Approx. 3 minutes

Kurds Set to Declare Federal Region in North on Thursday

Syria’s main Kurdish party is expected to declare a federal region in the north in areas under its control on Thursday, following talks with other ethnic groups in the area.

Representatives of the Arab, Assyrian and Kurdish communities in the area met in the oil-rich town of Rmeilan in Hassakeh province on Wednesday to discuss the declaration of the federal region.

“The gathering will try to develop a new ruling system in northern Syria,” said Sihanouk Dibo, a consultant with the Democratic Union Party (PYD), the largest Syrian Kurdish political faction. “All the suggestions are now headed towards federalism.”

The federal region would further unite three Kurdish-controlled cantons in northern Syria, a move that makes Syrian Kurdish autonomy more likely in any post-war scenario, The National reports.

“A federal state for ruling all of Syria is the best way to protect Syria from being divided up, because there is major distrust among the different sides,” said PYD media official Ibrahim Ibrahim.

Peace Talks Hampered Over ‘Federal Syria’ Dispute

The three-day-old peace talks in Geneva have hit their first speed bump as arguments flared up over the makeup of delegations and a Kurdish call to form a federal Syria with a semi-autonomous Kurdish area in the northeast.

Head of the government delegation Bashar al-Jaafari completely rejected the idea of a federal system Syria, he also said he would refuse to speak directly to the opposition’s High Negotiations Committee – the main opposition delegation – because it included individuals he considered terrorists.

United Nations officials have been expecting bumps in the road and are largely relying on the U.S. and Russia to pressure delegations to remain constructive.

Jaafari also welcomed the arrival of the Moscow Group, a rival opposition group accepted by Syrian president Bashar al-Assad and seen as government collaborators by the HNC.

The head government representative said he was not under any pressure from Moscow to make compromises in the peace talks as a result of Russia’s surprise partial withdrawal of troops announced on Monday at the start of the resumed negotiations in Geneva.

“The Russian decision to withdraw partially from Syria was taken jointly by a common decision, taken both by President Putin and President Assad. So it wasn’t a surprise for us,” said Jaafari.

The Pentagon, for its part, said the Russian withdrawal had taken them by surprise and that they were still unsure as to Moscow’s intentions.

Russia Withdraws Nearly Half of Its Fighter Jets

Nearly half of Russia’s fixed-wing air force based in Syria has left the country in the past two days, according to a calculation by Reuters.

A top Russian general told local media on Wednesday that Moscow would complete the withdrawal of most of its military contingent before the end of the week.

The task, said Russian air force commander Viktor Bondarev, would be completed “within two to three days.”

The exact number of planes Russia has at its Hmeimim air base in Latakia is a secret, but analysis of airstrikes, defense ministry statements and satellite imagery suggests it had about 36 fixed-wing fighter jets.

According to Reuters’ analysis of state television footage, at least 15 planes have flown out of Syria in the past two days, including Su-24, Su-25, Su-30 and Su-34 jets.

Recommended Reads

Top image: U.N. envoy for Syria Staffan de Mistura (left) speaks with former Syrian deputy prime minister Qadri Jamil (right) and Syria’s regime-tolerated opposition during a new round of negotiations of Syrian peace talks at the U.N. headquarters in Geneva on Wednesday, March 16, 2016. (Associated Press)

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