What message does increased US presence in Syria send to Russia and Turkey?

A Syrian man rides a motorcycle past a US military vehicle patrolling the town of Tal Tamr, in Syria's northeastern Hasakeh province, on September 21, 2020. (AFP)
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Updated 22 September 2020

What message does increased US presence in Syria send to Russia and Turkey?

  • Deployment of additional American troops after clash with Russians is symbolic warning to Moscow, analyst says

ANKARA: The decision by the US to boost its military presence in Syria following an encounter with Russian forces has raised concerns about the message the move sends to Turkey, Russia and Iran, as Washington attempts to reinforce its deterrent role in the region.

However, experts said the show of force is unlikely to alter the status quo in the northeastern part of the country, which is already dominated by American and Syrian Kurdish YPG forces.

In addition to about 500 troops that were already in the area, the US has deployed six armored Bradley Fighting Vehicles and a further 100 troops to the region in what is interpreted as an effort to deter Russia from meddling in areas where US and Kurdish forces jointly operate.

Last month, seven American soldiers were injured during an incident in which a Russian armored vehicle collided with a US military patrol vehicle.

Russia and Turkey held a new round of talks on Sept. 15 and 16 in Ankara about the situation in Syria. However, they failed to reach a consensus about downgrading the latter’s military presence in the rebel-held Idlib province, where more than 20,000 Turkish troops are deployed.

Russia expects Turkish troops to withdraw from areas south of M4 highway, in line with a previous agreement between the two nations, but authorities in Ankara are unwilling to pull out as they want to clear the cities of Manbij and Tel Rifaat of YPG forces.

Alexey Khlebnikov, an independent strategic risk consultant and MENA expert at the Russian International Affairs Council, said that Turkey is likely to want something in return for reaching an agreement with Russia about deployment in Idlib.

“Moscow wants Ankara to pull out its troops from south of the M4 highway because that is what both sides agreed in March,” he said. “South Idlib in exchange for some concessions in the northeast and areas where Kurds are present might result in an agreement between Ankara and the Kremlin.”

The deployment of additional US forces is unlikely to affect the discussions between Turkey and Russia or alter the dynamics of their relationship, according to Samuel Ramani, a Middle East analyst at the University of Oxford.

“They are principally a symbolic warning shot to Russia not to harass or inflict harm on US forces in Syria,” he said. “But even their ability to deter Russian aggression is limited, as Moscow is very confident that the US would choose to withdraw from Syria rather than drag itself much deeper into the Syrian conflict, at least as long as Donald Trump remains president.”

The effect on the ground of the additional deployment will therefore be marginal, Ramani added, but it might lead to deeper discussions in Washington about the goals of the mission in Syria and whether the US needs to be there, which could have longer-term effects after the US elections in November.

Joe Macaron, a Middle East foreign-policy analyst at the Arab Center, said that the US sent additional troops to Syria to reinforce the defensive posture of existing forces.

“The White House only gave a green light for an additional 100 troops for 90 days, which incidentally coincides with the end of Trump’s first term,” he said.

Therefore, he added, the move is unlikely to have any significant effect on regional dynamics as Russia and Turkey await the outcome of the US elections, which could redefine Washington’s relations with Moscow and Ankara.


Turkish Cypriots elect Erdogan’s candidate amid east Med tensions

Turkish Cypriot politician Ersin Tatar celebrates his election victory in Turkish-controlled northern Nicosia, Cyprus October 18, 2020. (REUTERS)
Updated 20 October 2020

Turkish Cypriots elect Erdogan’s candidate amid east Med tensions

  • The European Union has deplored Turkey’s drilling for hydrocarbons in disputed waters and warned Ankara against further “provocations,” while multiple countries have staged military drills in the region in recent months

NICOSIA: Turkish Cypriots in breakaway northern Cyprus on Sunday narrowly elected right-wing nationalist Ersin Tatar, backed by Ankara, in a run-off poll, at a time of heightened tensions in the eastern Mediterranean.
Tatar, 60, clinched his surprise victory in a second round of presidential elections, winning 51.7 percent of the vote, official results showed.
He edged out incumbent Turkish Cypriot leader Mustafa Akinci, 72, a supporter of reunification with the Greek Cypriot south of the divided island, leaving attempts to relaunch long-stalled UN-brokered talks hanging in the balance.
Tatar is an advocate of a two-state solution and held the post of premier in the self-proclaimed Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (TRNC), recognized only by Ankara.
He controversially received the open backing of Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan during the election campaign.
In a victory speech to hundreds of cheering and Turkish flag-waving supporters, Tatar thanked Turkey’s head of state and said: “We deserve our sovereignty — we are the voice of Turkish Cypriots.
“We are fighting to exist within the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus, therefore our neighbors in the south and the world community should respect our fight for freedom.”
There was no immediate official reaction from the Greek Cypriot government or ruling party in the south of the island, which is a European Union member state, although opposition parties were quick to lament the outcome.
Erdogan was swift to celebrate the victory, which followed a high 67-percent turnout at the polls.
“I congratulate Ersin Tatar who has been elected president ... Turkey will continue to provide all types of efforts to protect the rights of the Turkish Cypriot people,” he wrote on Twitter.

HIGHLIGHT

Ersin Tatar edged out incumbent Mustafa Akinc, leaving attempts to relaunch UN-brokered talks hanging in the balance.

In a telephone call the same night, Erdogan said he was confident the two leaders would maintain close cooperation in all areas, “starting with the hydrocarbon linked activities in the eastern Mediterranean,” his office said.
Under Erdogan, Turkey has become an increasingly assertive regional power that is now engaged in a bitter dispute with Greece and Cyprus over oil and gas reserves in eastern Mediterranean waters.
The European Union has deplored Turkey’s drilling for hydrocarbons in disputed waters and warned Ankara against further “provocations,” while multiple countries have staged military drills in the region in recent months.
The second-round ballot was triggered after Tatar won 32 percent of the vote on Oct. 11 ahead of Akinci, who garnered just under 30 percent.
Akinci was tipped to secure a second term, having won the backing of Tufan Erhurman, a fellow social democrat who came third last time around.
After his defeat, Akinci, who had accused Ankara of meddling in the polls, thanked his supporters and said: “You know what happened ... I am not going to do politics on this.”
The TRNC, with a population of about 300,000, was established after the north was occupied by Turkey in 1974 in reaction to a coup that aimed to annex Cyprus to Greece.
Earlier in October, Turkish troops angered the Republic of Cyprus by reopening public access to the fenced-off seaside ghost town of Varosha for the first time since Turkish forces invaded the north.
The reopening was announced jointly by Erdogan and Tatar at a meeting in Ankara just days before the first round of polling.
It drew EU and UN criticism and sparked demonstrations in the Republic of Cyprus, which exercises its authority over the island’s south, separated from the TRNC by a UN-patrolled buffer zone.
On the eve of Sunday’s vote, Greek Cypriot demonstrators massed at a checkpoint along the so-called “Green Line,” holding signs that read “Cyprus is Greek,” in protest at the reopening of nearby Varosha to the Turkish Cypriots.
Turkey has repeatedly said it seeks to defend Turkish and Turkish Cypriots’ rights in the eastern Mediterranean.
Akinci’s relationship with Ankara had come under strain, especially after he described the prospect of the north’s annexation by Turkey as “horrible” in February.
When Akinci took office in 2015, he was hailed as the leader best placed to revive peace talks.
But hopes were dashed in July 2017 after UN-mediated negotiations collapsed in Switzerland, notably over Greek Cypriot demands for the withdrawal of the tens of thousands of Turkish soldiers still stationed in the TRNC.