New Turkish operation in Syria ‘may benefit Russia’

Kurdish fighters and veterans protest against Turkish threats in Qamishli. (AFP)
Updated 12 October 2019

New Turkish operation in Syria ‘may benefit Russia’

  • Turning a blind eye to Ankara’s offensive in the region ‘might play into the Kremlin’s hands’

ANKARA: Amid a gradual withdrawal of American troops from the Turkish-Syrian border, and tensions between the Turkish military and US-allied Syrian-Kurdish fighters, Moscow’s role is a matter of debate. Russia, a major player in Syria, supports President Bashar Assad’s regime, while Turkey supports rebels opposed to him.
Although the Kremlin says Turkey has the right to defend itself, its spokesman Dmitry Peskov reiterated on Monday that Syria’s territorial integrity should be preserved and that all foreign troops “with an illegal presence” must leave the country.
If US troops fully withdraw from northeast Syria, Russia will likely support attempts by the Assad regime to regain control of parts of the region that are not seized by Turkey.
Some experts say Turkey’s threatened military operation against Syrian Kurds may pave the way for a Russian-brokered deal between Damascus, Turkey and the Kurds.
“President Vladimir Putin clearly expressed several times that Russia understands Turkish security concerns in northeast Syria, thus Moscow isn’t against Ankara’s plans to create a buffer zone,” Alexey Khlebnikov, an expert at the Russian International Affairs Council, told Arab News. Khlebnikov said Moscow might expect that this situation could make Syrian Kurds more amenable to talks with Damascus. He added that the situation in northeast Syria should be viewed together with the issue of Idlib province in the northwest.
Russia and Turkey are co-guarantors of the “de-escalation zone” in Idlib, where the withdrawal of extremist organizations has still not been fully achieved.
“It seems there’s a certain agreement between Putin and (Turkish President Recep Tayyip) Erdogan that envisages a sort of swap: Damascus and Russia get a bigger part of Idlib … in exchange for not objecting to a Turkish operation in northeast Syria,” Khlebnikov said. “This way, Russian-Turkish cooperation on Syria isn’t threatened.”
Khlebnikov added that Russia can be a broker between Syrian Kurds and Damascus, and between Damascus and Ankara.

HIGHLIGHTS

• Although the Kremlin says Turkey has the right to defend itself, its spokesman Dmitry Peskov reiterated on Monday that Syria’s territorial integrity should be preserved.

• Erdogan and Trump set to discuss the crisis, other key issues next month.

“However, it isn’t clear whether US forces will be completely pulled out of the country. With the US staying in Syria, any further development of the situation will be blocked,” he said.
Erdogan and US President Donald Trump are set to meet on Nov. 13 to discuss Syria, among other issues.
Dr. Kerim Has, a Moscow-based analyst on Russian-Turkish relations, said Moscow prefers that US troops completely withdraw and that the Assad regime takes over northeast Syria.
“However, it seems unrealistic in the short term, despite Trump’s efforts and recent announcement about bringing American soldiers in Syria back home,” Has told Arab News.
He added that turning a blind eye to a Turkish offensive in northeast Syria might play into the Kremlin’s hands. “Firstly, it may deepen the US-Turkish security crisis after Ankara’s acquisition of Russian S-400 missile systems,” he said. “If the rift between Washington and Ankara broadens, Moscow may realistically aim to increase Turkey’s dependence on Russia in military-technical cooperation by selling its Su-type warplanes or other kinds of arms.” Secondly, Has said, Turkey’s involvement in northeast Syria may push the Kurds to reach a deal with Damascus. “If this happens, Russia will have to play the role of broker between the Kurds and the Assad regime,” he added.
“Thirdly, Moscow’s long-term aim of Damascus seizing Idlib may be achieved more easily since Turkey could transfer the armed opposition and radical jihadist groups from there to northeast Syria.” But Russia’s hands-off approach to a possible Turkish incursion may change if the situation risks escalating beyond its control, Has said.


US to pull last troops from north Syria

Updated 14 October 2019

US to pull last troops from north Syria

  • The developments illustrate Washington’s waning influence over events in Syria
  • Turkey aims to neutralize the Kurdish YPG militia, the main element of US’s Kurdish-led ally the Syrian Democratic Forces

WASHINGTON/BEIRUT: The United States said on Sunday it will withdraw its remaining 1,000 troops from northern Syria in the face of an expanding Turkish offensive while Syria’s army struck a deal with Kurdish forces to redeploy along its border with Turkey, both major victories for Syrian President Bashar Assad.
The developments illustrate Washington’s waning influence over events in Syria and the failure of the US policy of keeping Assad from reasserting state authority over areas lost during the more than eight-year conflict with rebels trying to end his rule.
The developments also represent wins for Russia and Iran, which have backed Assad since 2011 when his violent effort to crush what began as peaceful protests against his family’s decades-long rule of Syria exploded into a full-blown civil war.
While the US withdrawal moves American troops out of the line of fire, the return of Syrian soldiers to the Turkish border opens up the possibility of a wider conflagration should the Syrian army come in direct conflict with Turkish forces.
The Turkish onslaught in northern Syria has also raised the prospect that Daesh militants and their families held by the Kurdish forces targeted by Turkey may escape — scores were said to have done so already — and permit the group’s revival.
The remarkable turn of events was set in motion a week ago when US President Donald Trump decided to withdraw about 50 special operations forces from two outposts in northern Syria, a step widely seen as paving the way for Turkey to launch its week-long incursion against Kurdish militia in the region.
Turkey aims to neutralize the Kurdish YPG militia, the main element of Washington’s Kurdish-led ally, the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), which has been a key US ally in dismantling the “caliphate” set up by Daesh militants in Syria.
Ankara regards the YPG as a terrorist group aligned with Kurdish insurgents in Turkey.
Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan on Sunday said the offensive would extend from Kobani in the west to Hasaka in the east and extend some 30 kilometers into Syrian territory, with the town of Ras al Ain now in Turkish control.
US Defense Secretary Mike Esper said the United States decided to withdraw its roughly 1,000 troops in northern Syria — two US officials told Reuters it could pull the bulk out in days — after learning of the deepening Turkish offensive.
It was unclear what would happen to the several hundred US troops at the American military outpost of Tanf, near Syria’s southern border with Iraq and Jordan.
Another factor behind the decision, Esper indicated in an interview with the CBS program “Face the Nation,” was that the SDF aimed to make a deal with Russia and Syria to counter the Turkish onslaught. Several hours later, the Kurdish-led administration said it had struck just such an agreement for the Syrian army to deploy along the length of the border with Turkey to help repel Ankara’s offensive.
The deployment would help the SDF in countering “this aggression and liberating the areas that the Turkish army and mercenaries had entered,” it added, referring to Turkey-backed Syrian rebels, and would also allow for the liberation of other Syrian cities occupied by the Turkish army such as Afrin.
The fighting has sparked Western concerns that the SDF, holding large swathes of northern Syria once controlled by Daesh, would be unable to keep thousands of militants in jail and tens of thousands of their family members in camps.