As so often recently, a decision on the future of Syria is coming down to a meeting between Russian President Vladimir Putin and Turkish leader Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
Putin holds talks with Erdogan in Russia’s Sochi on Tuesday as the clock runs down on Turkey’s 120-hour cease-fire for Kurdish fighters to leave a strip of territory in northeastern Syria. With Russia backing Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s forces in seeking to regain control of the area, Putin may press Erdogan to communicate directly with Damascus to try to resolve the crisis.
“Of course, we need a dialogue” between Turkey and Syria, and Moscow is “ready to play a supporting role, to encourage such contacts,” Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov told reporters Monday. While the talks should be based on a 1998 security pact reached between Ankara and Damascus, Russia “will accept and support” any changes they decide to make, he said.
The cease-fire that Erdogan agreed on with U.S. Vice President Mike Pence last week after the withdrawal of American troops from Kurdish-held northern Syria expires at 10 p.m. local time. Erdogan has vowed to resume his offensive and “continue crushing heads” in Syria if the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces haven’t left a 120-kilometer (75-mile) area between the border towns of Tal Abyad and Ras al-Ayn by then.
That ultimatum marked a shift in the Turkish position after Erdogan and other top officials said last week that they expected the U.S. to convince the Kurdish YPG militia to withdraw from a 444-kilometer strip along the Syrian border with Turkey.
“For Russia, the main thing is not to allow a clash between Turkish and Syrian troops,” said Elena Suponina, a Moscow-based Middle East expert. “Putin may offer mediation between Turkey and the Kurds, as well as between Turkey and the Syrian government.”
Erdogan said last week that he wants to talk to Putin about Syrian government troops who have deployed to the border after striking a deal with the Kurds. “There are regime forces under Russian protection in parts of our operation area,” he said. “We have to find a solution.”
Putin and Erdogan have sparred repeatedly over the Kurdish-controlled region in Syria, with Turkey demanding the buffer zone to deter YPG forces it says are terrorists linked to separatists inside its own territory. The YPG says it poses no danger to Turkey and only wants to defend Syria’s Kurds. Russia wants Assad’s government to control the zone that the Kurds held for seven years during the Syrian war.
U.S. President Donald Trump’s order to withdraw the last 1,000 U.S. troops from northern Syria prompted Erdogan to launch his operation. That forced the Kurds to strike a deal with Moscow and Damascus for the Syrian army to enter the area and protect the border with Turkey.
Putin will “play for time in the negotiations” with Erdogan as this “plays into the hands of Moscow and Damascus” by allowing the Syrian government to expand its control, said Ruslan Mamedov, a Middle East analyst at the Russian International Affairs Council, a Moscow-based research group founded by the Kremlin. “It’s not a meeting at which one can press the other -- they will try to reach a gentleman’s agreement.”
Russia and Syria are both “disturbed” by the YPG’s presence in the northeast Syrian city of Qamishli where the two countries have troops, Erdogan told reporters in Istanbul last week, adding that this will be a key topic for his meeting with Putin. Video posted Monday showed residents in the mainly Kurdish city pelting departing U.S. military vehicles with tomatoes and potatoes.
Turkey broke off ties with Damascus soon after the outbreak of the Syrian war and Erdogan has repeatedly called for Assad to leave power. Still, while refraining publicly from official contact, Erdogan has gradually shifted Ankara’s position to allow closer coordination with the Assad government. On Friday, Erdogan didn’t outright reject the possibility of direct talks with Damascus.
WIth Russian military police patrolling the line of contact between Syrian troops and Turkish forces around the key strategic cities of Manbij and Kobani, Erdogan may seek assurances that Turkey faces no Kurdish threat from these areas, according to Suponina. “Moscow will assure him that there is no threat to Turkey,” she said.
Russia wants to ensure “all Kurdish structures” in Syria are included within the Syrian constitution “so that there are no illegal armed groups on the territory of Syria and no threat to the security of Turkey or other states,” Lavrov said. “A dialogue is needed between the Kurds and Damascus. We are ready to encourage such dialogue in every way possible,” he said.
سایت تابناک از انتشار نظرات حاوی توهین و افترا و نوشته شده با حروف لاتین (فینگیلیش) معذور است.