Search form

Welcome to Arab News

You are here

Columns

The significance for Syria of Erdogan-Putin meeting

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan had talks with his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin last week in Sochi, Russia. The most important item on the agenda was the creation of “de-escalation” zones in various parts of Syria. Turkey had long promoted the idea of establishing a safe zone in northern Syria. Russia and the US were also interested, but perceptions regarding the content of the idea varied.

Erdogan had in mind a safe zone preferably in areas controlled presently by the Free Syrian Army (FSA), with the support of the Turkish Army. If possible, this zone would be protected by a no-fly zone, meaning Syrian regime aircraft would be prevented from flying over the zone and bombing targets in it. However, Turkey could not gather sufficient support for it.

The US said on several occasions it was in favor of such an idea, but with a different scope. It wanted to protect the Kurds from the regime. Turkey tried to persuade the US to create a zone free from Kurdish fighters of the People’s Protection Units (YPG), which the US views as a valuable ally.

Last week, Erdogan and Putin agreed on an entirely different concept. Russia wants to draw a line between the warring parties in four places: Idlib in the north, next to the Turkish border; Homs, north of Damascus; the Ghouta neighborhood of Damascus; and a region near Daraa close to the Jordanian border. De-escalation is not expected to become operational at the same time in every region.

Russia, Turkey and Iran will be the guarantors of the plan, but other countries will be invited to contribute to its implementation. The aim is to end the hostilities and create favorable conditions to advance a political settlement of the crisis in Syria.

Hostilities will be controlled by the parties in the de-escalation areas, including weapons. Unhindered, immediate and safe humanitarian access will be provided under the supervision of the guarantor. Conditions will be created to provide medical aid to the population.

The deal reached in Sochi is a major breakthrough, and makes Ankara an officially involved party in the de-escalation process. It also solves the dilemma of whether Turkey will cooperate with Russia or with the US, because both support the plan.

Yasar Yakis

Measures will be taken to restore social infrastructure, water supply and other life-supporting systems, and conditions will be created to ensure the safe and voluntary return of refugees and the work of local governing bodies. Along the borders of the de-escalation zones, there will be safe areas to prevent incidents and direct clashes between the warring parties. This part of the plan vaguely resembles Turkey’s original proposal.

Daesh, Al-Qaeda-linked opposition groups and other terrorist organizations listed by the UN will not be covered by the plan, so they will continue to be targeted by the Syrian and Russian air forces.

Putin said he discussed the plan and other ways to consolidate the cease-fire with US President Donald Trump, and that he supports the ideas. But State Department spokesperson Heather Nauert said the US had reasons to be cautious, including Iran’s role in the deal and the Syrian regime’s failure to fulfill past commitments. “The US appreciates the efforts by Russia and Turkey, and supports any effort that can lower violence in Syria,” she added.

A working group will be established five days after the agreement is signed by Russia, Turkey and Iran. It will determine the boundaries of the areas of tension and security, and will finalize technical issues related to the implementation of the plan. The maps of “areas of tension and de-escalation areas” will be completed by May 22.

The deal reached in Sochi is a major breakthrough, and makes Ankara an officially involved party in the de-escalation process. It also solves the dilemma of whether Turkey will cooperate with Russia or with the US, because both support the plan.

This cooperation will help mend the damage in Turkish-Russian relations caused by Turkey’s downing of a Russian fighter jet. It will also readjust Ankara’s Syria policy to reflect the realities on the ground, and send a message to the West that its snubbing of Turkey has limits.

 

Yasar Yakis is a former foreign minister of Turkey and founding member of the ruling AK Party.