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 lawmakers set measure opposing Trump on Syria troop withdrawal

In this file photo taken on September 8, 2019 US troops walk past a Turkish military vehicle during a joint patrol with Turkish troops in the Syrian village of al-Hashisha on the outskirts of Tal Abyad town along the border with Turkish troops. (AFP)
Updated 12 min 21 sec ago

US lawmakers set measure opposing Trump on Syria troop withdrawal

  • Senate and House aides said lawmakers were working on legislation to impose stiffer sanctions on Turkey, hoping to force Turkish President Erdogan to halt his military campaign in northeastern Syria

WASHINGTON: US Democratic lawmakers, joined by some of President Donald Trump’s fellow Republicans, introduced a resolution on Tuesday opposing Trump’s decision to withdraw US forces from Syria, the latest sign of deep disapproval in Congress of his action.
“We have always maintained that, while certainly needed, a sanctions package alone is insufficient for reversing this humanitarian disaster,” House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer said in a statement introducing the resolution.
In addition to Pelosi and Schumer, the resolution was led by Representatives Eliot Engel, the Democratic chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, and Mike McCaul, the committee’s top Republican.
It also is backed by Senators Bob Menendez, the top Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and Todd Young, a Republican member of that panel.
Senate and House aides said lawmakers were working on legislation to impose stiffer sanctions on Turkey, hoping to force Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan to halt his military campaign in northeastern Syria.
Several sanctions bills were introduced in the Senate and House, supported by Democrats and some of Trump’s fellow Republicans, before Trump said he would impose sanctions.
Trump announced a set of sanctions on Monday to punish Ankara, and a senior Trump administration official said on Tuesday that Washington would threaten more sanctions to persuade Turkey to reach a cease-fire and halt its offensive. The measures — mainly a hike in steel tariffs and a pause in trade talks — were less robust than financial markets had anticipated. Trump’s critics derided them as too feeble to have an impact, and the Turkish currency recovered.