Afrin offensive could risk Turkey’s relations with Russia

Afrin offensive could risk Turkey’s relations with Russia
Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan listens to cheering supporters as he addresses his lawmakers at the parliament in Ankara, Turkey, Tuesday, Jan. 16, 2018. (AP)
Updated 16 January 2018

Afrin offensive could risk Turkey’s relations with Russia

Afrin offensive could risk Turkey’s relations with Russia

ANKARA: Turkey’s preparation for an imminent military operation in the Syrian Kurd province of Afrin could raise the complex and delicate question of who are Ankara’s partners and who are its rivals?
The operation against a US-backed Kurdish militia, which Turkey considers a terrorist group, will take place amid escalating tensions between Ankara and Washington over their Syria policies.
President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Tuesday said the offensive against the “nests” of terror in Afrin and Manbij towns would begin on Wednesday or Thursday. The attack will take place in partnership with Syrian opposition fighters allied to Turkey.
But the ever-changing dynamics in the nearly seven year conflict may oblige Turkey to go it alone in terms of its international allies — a risky option given the uncertainty as to how regional actors will react.
For now, Russia seems muted but would prefer Turkey to increase its presence in the de-escalation zone in Idlib by launching more observation posts to monitor a cease-fire. People’s Protection Units
The northwestern Afrin province, which borders Turkey, is currently under the control of the US-backed Kurdish militia People’s Protection Units (YPG) seen as a terrorist organization by Turkey because of its links with the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), that has waged a decades-long insurgency inside Turkey.
Moreover, the US-led international coalition against Daesh announced on Sunday that it is training a new border security force in Syria to protect the Turkish-Syrian border.
The surprise initiative infuriated Turkey and Erdogan vowed on Monday to “kill such a terrorist army before it is born.”
On Tuesday, he called on NATO, of which both Turkey and the US are members, to stand with Ankara “in the “event of any border aggression.”
Likewise, Prime Minister Binali Yildirim said that with this move the US showed that it is treating Turkey as its “enemy”.
Crucially, it will be how Moscow reacts that could determine how Turkey emerges from the offensive.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov warned on Monday that any formation of a zone under the control of Kurdish militants could lead to the partition of Syria and may impede finding an end to the conflict Syria.
“We are talking about an extremely complicated geopolitical picture here,” Emre Ersen, a Syria analyst at Marmara University in Istanbul, told Arab News.
“Although it is true that the PYD (the YPG’s political wing) has built closer links with the US, it has not refrained from developing special relations with Russia particularly in the last couple of years.”
Ersen said that despite Moscow’s move to improve relations with Turkey, “Russia still believes the PYD can be eventually convinced to make a deal with the Assad regime.”
Russia is unlikely to be easily persuaded by Turkey to abandon its plans for the PYD’s role in Syria. An agreement between the Kurdish group and the Syrian regime was one of the main goals of Moscow’s Syrian National Dialogue Congress proposal.
Ersen thinks the US announcement of a new border army in Syria is perceived by Moscow as a major challenge to the rising Russian political and military influence in the Middle East.
“Therefore, this development will probably bring Turkey and Russia closer in Syria, although they recently hasd some important disagreements regarding the situation in Idlib,” he said.
There has been speculation that Turkey made a deal with Russia over its increased presence in Idlib in exchange for Moscow’s consent for its military operation in Afrin.
When Turkey staged its previous offensive into Syria to clear the border of YPG and Daesh threats, Russia did not initially oppose Ankara’s military aircraft using Syrian airspace.
This gave implicit support to the seven-month Operation Euphrates Shield, which ended in March 2017, and Russia even provided Turkey with some air support of its own.
Russia now controls the airspace over Idlib and Afrin, and without its approval Ankara will not be able to support its fighters in their operation – a key factor that will determine the success of the offensive.
“It will be extremely difficult for the Turkish forces to achieve the goals of the Afrin operation without Russia’s implicit or explicit support,” Ersen said. “On the other hand, any kind of Turkish-Russian cooperation in Afrin will most probably alienate the PYD from Moscow, which contradicts Russia’s long-term plans in Syria.”
Syria’s Afrin has been in Turkey’s sights. The south of the province is monitored by Turkey’s observation posts in Idlib, and the eastern part was sealed during the Euphrates Shield.
On Tuesday, Turkish Chief of General Staff Gen. Hulusi Akar attended a NATO meeting of defense chiefs in Brussels, and during his speech he said, “NATO should not make discrimination between terror groups in the fight against terrorism.”
Erol Bural, a former military officer and terrorism expert at the 21st Century Turkey Institute, said it is time for Turkey to use more efficient diplomacy at NATO and the UN to prevent the escalation of this crisis and to strengthen its hand.
“The US-led border security initiative intends to monitor the Turkey-Syria border, which means NATO’s own borders are under a serious threat,” Bural told Arab News.
Bural thinks that an operation into Afrin against the PKK-linked YPG terror group may trigger domestic security threats inside Turkey.
“For the moment Turkey has not announced any exit strategy from such an operation. We don’t know how long Turkish soldiers will stay there,” he said. “it seems that the political objectives are the same with military and state: clearing the area from terrorist threat.
But, Bural warned that if the operation extends to the east of the Euphrates River, it may lead to direct combat with the US, which controls that zone.


Russia to announce resumption of charter flights to Egypt

Russia to announce resumption of charter flights to Egypt
Updated 20 April 2021

Russia to announce resumption of charter flights to Egypt

Russia to announce resumption of charter flights to Egypt
  • Flights from Russia to the Egyptian Red Sea resorts of Sharm el-Sheikh and Hurghada would resume in March

MOSCOW: Russia’s Foreign Ministry said on Tuesday it would soon announce the resumption of charter flights to Egypt, the Interfax news agency reported.
The head of Egypt’s civil aviation authority told Reuters in February that direct flights from Russia to the Egyptian Red Sea resorts of Sharm el-Sheikh and Hurghada would resume in March after being suspended for more than five years.


Israel, UK discuss ‘Iranian threat’ in Mideast region

Israel, UK discuss ‘Iranian threat’ in Mideast region
Updated 20 April 2021

Israel, UK discuss ‘Iranian threat’ in Mideast region

Israel, UK discuss ‘Iranian threat’ in Mideast region

DUBAI: Israel’s Foreign Minister discussed on Tuesday the threat Iran poses on the region with UK Minister Michael Gove.

Gabi Ashkenazi discussed other regional issues, bilateral ties and “the need for a travel corridor,” with the British Cabinet Office minister.

Gove is visiting Israel to study a COVID “green pass” smartphone app that could soon be the model for vaccine passports in the UK.

 

The British minister, who is in charge of a study into how coronavirus certification might work in the UK, has been a supporter of the Israeli scheme for weeks.

The visit involves meetings with Israel’s health minister, Yuli Edelstein and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.


Egypt to purchase 20 million doses of Sinopharm vaccine

Egypt to purchase 20 million doses of Sinopharm vaccine
Updated 20 April 2021

Egypt to purchase 20 million doses of Sinopharm vaccine

Egypt to purchase 20 million doses of Sinopharm vaccine

CAIRO: Egypt has agreed to purchase 20 million doses of the COVID-19 vaccine produced by China's Sinopharm and expects to receive a batch of 500,000 shots this month, its health ministry said on Tuesday.
The agreement boosts vaccination efforts in Egypt, which has a population of 100 million and has so far received a total of just over 1.5 million doses of Sinopharm and of the AstraZeneca shot.
Earlier this month, Egypt announced it was preparing to produce up to 80 million doses of the vaccine produced by China's Sinovac. 


Human Rights conference in Yemen: Houthis continue to commit war crimes

Human Rights conference in Yemen: Houthis continue to commit war crimes
Updated 20 April 2021

Human Rights conference in Yemen: Houthis continue to commit war crimes

Human Rights conference in Yemen: Houthis continue to commit war crimes
  • Al-Jawf’s rights and information committee said the militia continue to plant booby-traps and mines on roads made for the public

DUBAI: The participants in Marib’s first conference for Human Rights urged the inclusion of Houthi militia as a terrorist organization due to their war crimes, state news agency Saba New reported.

Marib’s governor Abd Rabbo Moftah said the city hosts 3 million people, with over two million displaced and distributed in 145 settlements and camps, from various other governorates.

Another official highlighted Houthi’s war crimes and targeting of camps, which has killed and injured several civilians including women and children, report added.

Meanwhile, Al-Jawf’s rights and information committee said the militia continue to plant booby-traps and mines on roads made for the public, Saba New reported.


Arab League chief calls for strategic partnership with UN to end region’s wars

Arab League chief calls for strategic partnership with UN to end region’s wars
Updated 20 April 2021

Arab League chief calls for strategic partnership with UN to end region’s wars

Arab League chief calls for strategic partnership with UN to end region’s wars
  • Security Council met to consider ways in which cooperation with organizations in Middle east might be enhanced to maintain global peace and security
  • Members reminded that groups closest to conflict zones are best positioned to understand disputes and help to prevent or resolve them

League of Arab States Secretary-General Ahmed Aboul Gheit on Monday called on the Security Council and other UN bodies to establish a strategic working partnership with the league and its member states.
The aim, he said, would be to lay the foundations for “security, stability and sustainable development in the Arab region, based on a genuine understanding of the problems facing the region, and on the primary responsibility of the UN in maintaining international peace and security.”
His call came during a high-level Security Council meeting on Monday that highlighted the importance of UN cooperation with regional and subregional organizations as part of efforts to maintain global peace and security, and considered how this might be enhanced.
The meeting was convened by Nguyen Xuan Phuc, the president of Vietnam, which holds the presidency of the Security Council this month, to discuss ways of fostering confidence building and dialogue in conflict prevention and resolution.
In a statement issued after the meeting, the presidency noted that the council’s primary responsibility under its charter is to safeguard international peace and security. It added that “regional and subregional organizations are well positioned to understand the root causes of armed conflicts owing to their knowledge of the region, which can be a benefit for their efforts to influence the prevention or resolution of these conflicts. (They are also) well positioned in promoting confidence, trust and dialogue among concerned parties within their respective regions.” It also pointed out that regional organizations play a vital role in post-conflict reconstruction and sustainable development.
The statement reaffirmed a commitment to the peaceful settlement of disputes. It called on council members to utilize the potential of regional and subregional organizations by “encouraging countries in the region to resolve differences peacefully through dialogue, reconciliation, consultation, negotiation, good offices, mediation and judicial settlement of disputes (and) by the promotion of confidence-building measures and political dialogue through full engagement with concerned parties.”
Since taking office in 2016, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has made such cooperation a key priority. Since 1945, he told council members, cooperation has grown significantly to now encompass “preventive diplomacy, mediation, counterterrorism, preventing violent extremism, peacekeeping, peacebuilding, promoting human rights, advancing the Women, Peace and Security agenda, combating climate change and, since last year, the response to the COVID-19 pandemic.”
He highlighted the establishment of a civilian-led transitional government in Sudan, in which women and young people play vital roles, as an example of effective cooperation — between the UN and the African Union (AU) and Ethiopia — to facilitate negotiations between rival parties. This type of collaboration led to signing of the Juba Peace Agreement in October 2020, he added.
Guterres also underscored the importance of the cooperation between the UN, the AU, the League of Arab States and the EU (the Libya Quartet) to support the “Libyan-led, Libyan-owned dialogue process and transition.” Working together in this way continues to support the implementation of the ceasefire and the promotion of national reconciliation, he added.
Meanwhile, Aboul Gheit said that the COVID-19 pandemic represents an additional problem for an Arab region already burdened by “wars, armed conflicts, refugees, internally displaced persons and other structural challenges affecting the security and stability of many of its countries.”
He urged council members to maximize international solidarity in the efforts to deal with the repercussions of the pandemic and all its human, economic and social costs. It is essential, he said, to end the fighting that is tearing apart the societal fabric of countries in conflict.
Highlighting the war in Syria and the “unprecedented external and regional interventions in this important Arab country,” Aboul Gheit warned that “the chances of extricating Syria from this terrifying spiral of conflict will continue to erode with the passage of time, and that the cost of rebuilding what the war has destroyed will increase day by day, and that the risks of unrest spreading to neighboring countries will remain unless a radical and integrated political settlement is reached.”
Aboul Gheit also spoke about Yemen, where the world’s worst man-made humanitarian crisis continues to unfold “due to the intransigence of the Houthi group and its rejection of all settlement attempts made over the past years, the latest of which is the Saudi initiative supported by the Arab world, and as a result of regional interventions that made Yemen a platform to threaten the security of its neighbors in the Gulf (and) energy and sea routes in the region.”
He also called for “more joint efforts to accompany the Libyan brothers in this march (toward national elections in December), through our coordinated work with the UN mission and also through the Quartet.”