The Middle East Political and Economic Affairs

Russia’s Syria game plan targets U.S. via Turkey

Turkish and Russian soldiers examnining a map during their first joint patrol along the Syria border on November 1. (Photo: Turkish Defence Ministry)

Russian and Turkish soldiers’ joint patrol against the YPG militants along the Turkey-Syria border started on November 1. It was followed by two key developments.
One was a bomb attack in the Tel Abyad marketplace, resulting in the deaths of 13 and injuries of 20 people. On the same day, on November 2, demonstrations took place in Paris, Berlin and other European cities to mark “Rojava Day”, proclaimed by the YPG, the Syria branch of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) and in the U.S. “Justice for Kurds” (JFK) platform was issuing a call to “protect the Kurdish allies fighting against ISIS”.
The other development was a declaration made by Major General Yuri Borenkov, head of Russia’s Reconciliation of the Parties in Syria on November 3, which Ankara would not like. Borenkov was sharing the information that the “pro-Turkish militants in Syria” had opened fire in the direction of an American convoy on the move towards Iraq, on the M-4 highway, and that no one had died or gotten injured during the incident. What was interesting in this statement was that Russians had been informed on the incident by Americans and that Russians had spoken almost as if to confirm that. The Russian general said that they detected “31 ceasefire violations within 24 hours” and that “Turkey-backed forces were targeting settlements in Aleppo, Latakia, Idlib and Hama”.
We’ll carry on from there but let’s not go forward without analyzing the developments thus far:
1- It looks like the U.S. has accepted Russia as the referee in the zone where Turkey and Russia hold joint responsibility and is informing Russia as well as its NATO ally Turkey concerning the developments in the zone;
2- Russia is taking its refereeing mission seriously, exposing the adverse actions of the “Turkey-backed militants – meaning the Syrian National Army (SNA) instead of sweeping them under the rug;
3- It looks like the SNA might be bringing more trouble, not only to the relations with the U.S. but with Russia as well.
We can’t say that these developments have made Ankara happy.

Unsteady equilibrium

There are a few more possible outcomes in the scenario. For example, it will probably be difficult for Turkey, back structures like the SNA, which have highly questionable components, for too long. The SNA, “Al-Jayš al-Watanī as-Sūrī” in Arabic, was founded to replace the Free Syrian Army (FSA), during a conference at Nevali Hotel in the Syria border city of Şanlıurfa, Turkey, on October 4, 2019, five days before Turkey’s Peace Spring military campaign. The main reason behind the founding of the SNA was that some jihadis groups within the FSA were no longer willing to cooperate with the “secular Turkish army”. The support for Turkey within the anti-Assad jihadist groups is not as strong as before; especially in the Idlib region, where the ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi died during an October 26 operation by the U.S. Ankara should better single out and cut off connection with any people and groups within the NSA which might have previous links to al-Qaeda, ISIS and affiliates.
Besides, the September 16 Astana Process meeting Turkish President Tayyip Erdoğan held with Russian head of state Vladimir Putin and Iranian President Hassan Rouhani has been a turning point, regarding Turkey’s Syria policy.
According to the information YetkinReport has reached, Putin has withdrawn a Syrian government representative who linked to the YPG/PKK from the new constitution talks in Geneva. Erdogan then agreed to include a name from the Syrian opposition delegation, which was approved by Russia, and the formation of a committee of 150 people was thus completed, reviving a political solution process that had been on hold since 2015.
Gair Pedersen, UN Special Envoy for Syria, declared that the gathering of a core group of 45 people (15 each from the Syrian government, the opposition and neutral parties) in Geneva during the meetings that started on September 30th and lasted for two days was a success. Turkey has managed to find itself a seat at the Syria table taking the risk of international isolation and U.S. sanctions threats, using its armed forces. Yet the rest must be solved not at the battleground but around the negotiation table. The proxy wars in Syria are coming to an end.

Russia’s new diplomatic model

Thanks to the mistakes of both Washington and Ankara, Moscow returned to the Middle East through the Syrian civil war. It upgraded its base in Tartus as one of the most modern naval bases in the Eastern Mediterranean and gained a modern airbase in Hmeymim near Latakia. In a sense, it became one of Israel’s neighbors. It tried out its newest weapons in Syria and showcased them at the international market while selling NATO member Turkey its S-400 missiles.
But Putin also tried out a new method of diplomacy in Syria and succeeded. The Astana Process, which has been launched in cooperation with Turkey (and also Iran at the background) and had led the way to the resumption of the Geneva Process, was one of the ways he executed this new diplomacy.
During the conference titled “Turkish-Russian Relations: Shaping the Future”, held at the Ankara Chamber of Commerce (ATO), on October 24-25, one of Russia’s leading Middle East experts and “Islamic World Strategic Vision Group” advisor Benjamin Popov defined this new diplomacy “model”. According to Popov, “the Sochi Agreement has shown that solutions can be found despite the U.S., not only in Syria but all over the world”. This model highlight, Popov elaborated, “a fair approach to the parties” and “understanding the needs of the parties”. When I asked Popov in what other context this model could be put into use he said: “for example, we’re speaking with both Iran and with Saudi Arabia in the Gulf. Then why shouldn’t Russia come together with Turkey and Egypt in Libya?” Speaking at the same conference, renowned Russian historian Andrey Fursoy said that “Turkey, Russia and Syria, which they deemed finished, have together prevented a war that could have resulted in mass deaths and losses in this part of the world”.

What is Putin trying to do?

So to Russia eyes, the Astana Process and the Sochi Agreement was seen as a way to put Turkey in indirect contact with Syria to reach a political solution despite the U.S.
There are two possible ways to read into Putin’s Syria game plan:
1- During the Soviet period, Moscow was trying to undermine U.S. efforts to stabilize at any cost, fueling regional conflicts. Now the tables have turned; while the U.S. seems to be hoping for the prolongation of regional conflicts, Russia is trying to break the U.S. influence through stability;
2- Russia establishes indirect and direct contact on regional matters with the U.S., which is trying to ignore Russia still, by reaching solutions through facilitating the indirect communication between competing regional parties. And it’s doing so with the backing of China’s rising economic and military power.
Putin’s model has reached its first success, thanks to Erdoğan who, through this model, ie Astana, found a way out of his PKK dispute with U.S. Presidents Barack Obama and Donald Trump.
U.S. forces complaining to Russia about “Turkey-backed militants” in Syria is perhaps the first concrete manifestation of this diplomatic model.

The Middle East Political and Economic Affairs

Erdoğan and Putin won in Syria. Who’s the loser?

Turkish President Erdoğan (L) and Russian President Putin seem tired but happy after 6-hour long talks in Sochi on October 22. (Photo: Turkish Presidency)

Following the U.S. President Donald Trump, Turkish President Tayyip Erdoğan has convinced Russian President Vladimir Putin not to allow the establishment of a Kurdish state in Syria; and Putin convinced Erdoğan to cooperate with the Syrian regime, if not personally with Bashar al-Assad.
Two hours before the expiry of a 120-deadline deal between the U.S. and Turkey ended on October 22, Turkey cut a similar deal with Russia with a deadline of 150-hours for clearing the remaining parts of Turkish-Syrian border the elimination from YPG forces, the Syria branch of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK). Turkish and Russian ministers Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu and Sergey Lavrov read the 10-point Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) which was agreed on by Erdoğan and Putin during 6-hours long talks in the Russian Black sea resort of Sochi.
In this memorandum, parties agreed that Russian and Syrian forces start, as of noon on October 23, the 150-hour process to eliminate YPG/PKK forces from a 30-km-deep zone extending from the Euphrates River to the Iraqi border for a total of 440 km. The 120-km of it is already under Turkish military control as a result of the Peace Spring campaign launched on October 9 and stopped on October 22 as the U.S. forces evacuated the area from the YPG/PKK forces which they have been using as their ground force against ISIS since 2014. After the 150-hrs period, which ends at 18.00 hrs Turkish time (16.00 GMT) Russian and Turkish forces will patrol the same area at 10-km-deep, except the city of Qamishli near Iraqi border which is already under partial control of the Syrian regime. Russia also accepted to evacuate the towns of Manbij and Tel Rifaat from the YPG/PKK, leaving no settlement areas near the (total of 910 km) Turkish Syrian border under the control of the Kurdish militant group.

Erdoğan won, Putin won more

Erdogan has thereby achieved his goal – which he has been insistent about – of removing the YPG/PKK presence from its border with Syria. It was clear that Putin wouldn’t send Erdoğan empty-handed from the Sochi meeting when he invited him to Sochi during the telephone call from Erdoğan on October 16, following Trump’s revelation of his scandalous letter and U.S. Congress’s demands of more sanctions. It was Putin who set the date for October 22, a day before the U.S. Vice President Mike Pence set the 120-hrs deadline with Erdoğan in Ankara on October 17.
Erdoğan here has managed to more or less succeed in his highly risky game of playing the Russian and U.S. cards against each other. Persistent Turkish diplomacy, involving the use of military power, despite the cost of harsh reactions from Western allies and facing economic sanctions, has eventually worked.
So, did Putin help Erdoğan get what he wanted because he wants the best for Turkey, pro bono? Of course not. Putin is considered as the biggest winner of the Syria crisis all over the world; Syria crisis turned into a ticket for Moscow to have its comeback to the Middle East after decades. And he’s taken something he wanted from Erdoğan, something important: the promise to get through this process in cooperation with the Syrian regime from now on.
What points out to this in the Memorandum is a reference to the Adana Agreement Turkey and Syria in 1998 after Damascus had to extradite Öcalan upon Turkish pressure which led to his arrest in 1999. In article 4 of the MoU, Russia’s “facilitator” role is underlined; this expression is used in diplomacy as a lighter form of mediation. And Moscow’s “facilitator” role had been unveiled last week by Russia’s Syria Special Representative Aleksandr Lavrentyev when he said that Turkish and the Syrian governments were in “real-time” communication via their foreign and defence ministries and intelligence services.

Towards the Geneva talks on Syria

The Adana Agreement has certain implications in this context. It suggests Turkish cooperation with the Assad’s regime in Syria. This might explain Erdoğan’s sweet-sour mimics during the Press Conference and the look Putin gave him as if to say “OK, but we’ve agreed now, right?”
Putin also knows well that Erdoğan had gotten involved with the Syria issue with completely different goals in mind. According to his plan, al-Assad would go and the Baas regime would topple down, and a new government, preferably Muslim Brotherhood-leaning, would replace it. Now, even if it’s not going as far as being friends with al-Assad, he’s still given his word to Putin that he will cooperate with the Baas regime.
The 150-hour process will end on October 29 and a day later, on October 30, talks on the new Syrian constitution will begin in Geneva: this is no coincidence. This plan was hinted at the end of the Astana Process talks between Erdoğan, Putin and Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani on September 16 in Ankara. Now that Putin has driven the U.S. out of Syria and made shown he’s got the upper hand in the field (both to Trump and Erdoğan) is now increasing the influence he has over Syria’s political future.

So, who’s the loser?

It’s possible to say that though it’s unclear how much he’ll stay in power, even Bashar al-Assad could be regarded on the winner side. He said “no way” to Putin on the phone after the Sochi deal, but he knows he cannot keep his seat without Putin’s backing.
Even U.S. President Trump, though he had to leave Syria to Russia, has won a little. His decision to withdraw the troops from Syria and his incessant repeating of how much money the U.S. poured into wars in the Middle East could work in his advantage in the 2020 elections.
For now, three parties look like they’ve lost the game. The biggest loser is the YPG/PKK who has been preparing to announce autonomy under the U.S.’s wings have suddenly found themselves out in the open. U.S. Secretary of Defence Mark Esper has welded his way out of a confrontation at the end of the 120-hour agreement process with Turkey, saying that they funded the Kurdish militants to fight ISIS, “not so they can build a state”. This was not the first example of the U.S. and other influential forces in the region inciting the Kurdish armed groups to rise up against regional governments and then letting them down. It would be wise to take the news that “Syrian Kurds have been applauded in Congress” with a pinch of salt: this is politics and the winds of change could blow anywhere, anytime.
Of course, it’s possible to consider Israeli President Binyamin Netanyahu as one of the losers in this context: he was vehemently supporting the founding of a Kurdish state as a buffer zone between Israel and Iran.
The European Union is not exactly a winner either. The EU encountered this crisis during one of the heaviest blows of its existence: the Brexit talks. Most of the EU attention was focused on that, and that may be the reason behind why its reactions and statements were falling behind the fast-paced developments. The fear of return of their ISIS member citizens, the fear of refugees and the fear of PKK militants possibly taking actions in their countries could be among the reason why the EU countries have reacted harshly towards Turkey.

The danger’s still there

Yet the dark clouds are still hovering over Turkey. Erdoğan’s realized too late (that is if he did) that his belief that he could solve just about anything with the U.S. President, ignoring the congress was wrong. And because he took so long to realize it, there is now an anti-Turkish sentiment overtaking Congress, due to an anti-Erdoğan sentiment in the first place. The economic sanctions if imposed could hurt Turkey, who is already trying to pull itself together economically. They will especially affect banking, as well as companies doing imports and exports.
There are also serious questions about the return of Syrian refugees to their homes in the suggested Safe Zone. How will Turkey find fund to build villages and towns for refugees in case of lack of international cooperation?
The reactions of the EU public opinion and Turkey’s isolation are ongoing, which can change soon as common interests dominate. But Turkey’s strategic goal was to prevent the founding of a Kurdish state by the PKK at the Syrian-Turkish border. And that goal seems to have been reached, at least for now, through agreements with Russia and the U.S. Under the circumstances, that’s a success.

The Middle East Political and Economic Affairs

Russia helps Turkey-U.S. deal, takes control in Syria

Putin, Erdoğan and Rouhani posing to cameras after a syria meeting in Ankara on September 16.

According to diplomatic sources who want to stay anonymous, Russia played a key role in the deal between Turkey and the U.S. on October 17 for a possible Safe Zone in Syria, as the deadline for U.S. to evacuate YPG/PKK militants from Turkish operation area in return ceasing the fire expires on October 22 night. Hereunder, the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) officials got in touch with Russian authorities in Syria prior to the Turkish military campaign launched on October 9 and asked for air cover in case Turks and Americans reached an agreement. Russians told SDF that they would not provide protection for them in North-East Syria. Pointing at the role of Turkish diplomatic initiatives on Russia’s decision, same sources claimed that the SDF, having its main body and command consisting of YPG/PKK reportedly assessed that hard resistance to Turkish army could give heavy damage to them without air cover so reportedly decided to get into contact with the government halfway instead.
Reuters reported from Beirut on October 8 that “Kurdish authorities in Syria” had contacted Damascus to stand against the U.S. because the U.S. had “stabbed them in the back”. On the same day, U.S President Donald Trump praised Turkey’s importance to the western alliance NATO in a series of tweets. He also announced his November 13 White House invitation to Turkish President Tayyip Erdoğan.

Trump’s maneuvers backfired

One of the aims in this maneuver was to attempt to gain time and hinder Turkey’s campaign. National Defense Minister Hulusi Akar had informed Erdoğan on September 30 National security Council (MGK) meeting that Turkish military was ready for the campaign. Erdoğan gave signals of that a day later during the parliament’s yearly opening, on October 1. Turkey was to act in harmony with its “NATO allies”. Akar pronounced this decision to U.S. Secretary of Defence Mark Esper on October 3 and to Turkish Chief of Staff Yaşar Güler to his American counterpart Mark Miley on October 4. Erdoğan’s top Foreign Policy and Security Adviser İbrahim Kalın forwarded the same message to Trump’s newly-appointed National Security Advisor Robert O’Brian, the same day. Trump was trying to ease the anti-Erdoğan sentiment in Congress and hinder Erdoğan’s campaign decision at the same time.
But something happened a few hours after Trump extended his invitation to Erdoğan, as the day turn from October 8 to October 9 in the Turkish time zone. Trump had a phone call with the SDF official ferg-hat Abdi Şahin, also using nicknames of “General Mazloum”, “Mazloum Kobani” and “Şahin Cilo” totalk about possible ways to avoid a Turkish action into Syria. Şahin requested an official “ceasefire deal” with the Turkish government. Şahin’s was a double-sided tactic. Should Turkey accept it, the PKK would secure the stay of American forces in Syria, continue to protect them in exchange for them not collaborating with the Russia-backed Syrian government, and also the deal would mean that Turkey would have recognized the YPG/PKK as an official counterpart. Trump sent this proposal as attached to his letter Erdoğan on October 9. On the same day, Kalın had O’Brian on the phone; the subject was announced as being about Erdoğan’s visit to White House on November 13. Whether this discussion was a distraction tactic, only time will tell. Because a few hours later, upon Erdoğan’s order, the Turkish military campaign into Syria began at 16.00 hours on October 9.
The campaign was conveyed officially to the U.S. Administration via a phone call by Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu to U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. The important detail here is that Çavuşoğlu notified his collocutors in the Astana Process, Russian and Iranian Foreign Ministers Sergey Lavrov and Javad Zarif, before he notified his U.S. colleague, despite being NATO allies, showing the distrust in between.

Putin moved to fill in

Two more developments ensued: Erdoğan called Russian Head of State Vladimir Putin on October 9, told him about the campaign and praised “Russia’s constructive attitude”. On October 10, Syria’s Vice Foreign Minister Faysal Mikdad stated that they would “not enter any dialogue with the Kurdish forces that betrayed the country”. Damascus had deported PKK leader Abdullah Öcalan in 1998 with Turkish pressure, thus helping his arrest in 1999 with the cooperation of Turkish intel service MIT and the CIA. Now backed by Russia, Syrian government was forcing the PKK to return home, but this time on its own accord. Indeed, on the fifth day of Turkey’s “Peace Spring” campaign, on October 14, SDF announced that they reached a deal with Bashar al-Assad’s regime.
Trump approved sanctions against Turkey on that same day, which was found inadequate by the Congress.
Erdoğan declared on October 15 that Turkish troops were about the start the military operation to give an end to the YPG/PKK control over the Syrian town of Manbij. Three other important developments took place on the same day. Troops carrying Russian and Syrian flags entered Manbij. Erdoğan’s first reaction was that it was normal, as Manbij was Syrian territory – which was the correct reaction. Secondly, Turkish and Russian troops did a joint patrol for the first time, around Manbij. Furthermore, Putin’s Syria Special Envoy Aleksandr Lavrentyev announced that Turkey and Syria were in “real-time” contact foreign and defense ministries and intelligence agencies.
Russia was demonstrating that it would not let a power vacuum manifest itself in Syria. On the next day, on October 16, Trump declared that he will be withdrawing his troops in Syria. He also made mention of the PKK for the first time, saying that they had “taken their money” so far and fought ISIS, but that they were now siding with Russia.
On that same day, on October 16, certain developments in Washington came rather hard upon Turkey. The Halkbank case was reopened and a sanctions projection demanding an investigation of Erdoğan and his family’s wealth and assets was proposed to Congress. Another interesting development was that Trump revealed the arrogantly humiliating October 9 letter he wrote to Erdoğan to Congress members he invited to the White House.

Tense talks in Ankara

Meanwhile, US Vice President Michael Pence and his team were on their way to Ankara. Erdogan angrily said he would not meet Pence, but would only see Trump. Trump’s letter disclosure and new sanction proposals were heavily discussed among Turkish and American delegations who have been engaged in technical preparations for days. (Sources point out that common acquaintances of former İbrahim Kalın and US Special Envoy to Syria and former Ambassador to Ankara Jim Jeffrey have made a positive contribution.)
Meanwhile, Erdogan had another phone conversation with Putin on October 16. Putin, who invited Erdogan to meet in Sochi on October 22, sent his special representative Lavrentyev to Ankara. On October 17, while Pence and his delegation were waiting to meet with Erdogan, Kalın was meeting with Lavrentyev between delegations in another chamber of the Presidency. The press also learned that Kalın had undertaken the translation in the 1 hour 20 minutes-long Erdoğan-Pence meeting. On the same day, the deal between the U.S. was revealed. The U.S. would withdraw the YPG/PKK forces from the operation zone and, in exchange, Turkey would pause the Peace Spring campaign for 120 hours, which was to expire at 22.00 Turkish time (20.00 GMT) on October 22. Almost at the same time, Russian-backed Syrian troops were entering Kobani (Ayn al-Arab) and Raqqa. Russia was filling the void that might emerge from the withdrawal of the US.

Russia is back in the Middle East

Erdogan-Putin meeting is scheduled to take place in Sochi on October 22, only hours before the expiry of the deadline.
The date given for Putin and Erdoğan’s meeting was set to hours before the end of the 5-day deadline, before the Erdoğan-Pence meeting. Let’s put this coincidence aside, for now. But it will not be a mere coincidence if Putin asks Erdoğan, to co-operate with Assad regime in Syria, when Erdoğan asks Putin for the extension of the Safe Zone along the Syria border from the river Euphrates to river Tigris by the Iraqi border; 440 km long and 32 km deep to push back YPG/PKK forces, armed and trained by the U.S. Especially not, right before the talks on the writing of a new Syrian Constitution will begin in Geneva on October 30.
It’s possible to look at these developments in a different light: Russia ensured the U.S.’s withdrawal from Syria by supporting Turkey’s security concerns, unlike to its NATO ally the U.S. It even helped them reach an agreement by turning the YPG/PKK request for air-cover down. Thus, Russia strengthened its control over the whole of Syria. Moscow, which had lost its influence over the Middle East after the fall of the U.S.S.R., made an excellent turn by using the discord between Turkey and the U.S. over the PKK.
International news agencies reported on October 21 about Kurds throwing rotten potatoes and stones at the American forces as they withdrew from Syria.

The Middle East Political and Economic Affairs

13 unsafe questions about the Safe Zone in Syria

Turkish President Erdoğan, jointly chairs the Turkish-American meeting on Syria on Ocftober 17 with U.S. VP Pence; Erdoğan had said earlier that he would only talk to Trump. (Photo: Presidency)

Turkish President Tayyip Erdoğan and U.S. Vice President Mike Pence had agreed on October 17 upon a 120-hour (five days) process for the Safe Zone deal in Syria. We were in the last 48 of that deadline as I was writing this article. As the countdown went on, details about how the countries came to this agreement began to come to light. If applied, this deal could decimate many of Turkey’s security concerns. Some of the details on the circumstances under which the parties reached the agreement are truly unbelievable. Erdoğan and Russian Head of State Vladimir Putin will meet in Sochi on Tuesday, October 22, 2019, only a few hours before the 120-hour countdown ends. U.S. President Donald Trump will, no doubt, keep a close watch on the said meeting too. I’m hoping to share some of these details once I double check and ripened the information I got.
But at this stage, it may be beneficial to pose a few questions to understand the situation Turkey is facing.
1- Erdoğan said on October 20 that what he means by “Safe zone, is a 440 kilometers-long and 32-km-deep area extending from Jarablus on the river Euphrates to the Syria-Iraq border, by the river Tigris. Which exact area is the 32-km-deep zone that the U.S. is promising to rid of the YPG/PKK? Is it the 120 km between Tel Abyad and Resulayn that the “Peace Spring” operation, “paused as of October 17? If so will theU.S.-Turkish deal be completed and the Turkish campaign will come to an end once this box is cleared from YPG/PKK militants?
2- Will the U.S. be able to withdraw those YPG/PKK forces from this 32-km-deep zone until midnight (or 22.00 according to one account) on October 22? Will the PKK comply with the American army?

Role of Russians, role of sanctions

3- Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu said on October 20 that one of the main topics during Erdoğan-Putin meeting would be to extend the Safe Zone to 440 km since parts of the (totally 910 km border) are under the Russian-backed Syria regime forces. Does this comprise, in addition to Peace Spring campaign’s target zone, the area that includes Kobane (Ayn al-Arab) on its West side and Qamishli on the East?
4- Did NATO adversary Russia had a role in the U.S. and Turkey reaching an agreement as two NATO allies? If so, what was Russia’s role here?
5- What other factors, other than Russia, have had a part in Turkey’s decision to reach an agreement with the U.S.? Was it the reopening of the Halkbank case a day before the agreement? Was it the new sanctions proposed in the U.S. Congress, including an investigation into the “worth and assets” lth of Erdoğan and his family members, or the proposal to investigate all companies and banks backing the Syria campaign? Had these played into the agreement decision? Has the fact that these matters were discussed between Turkish and American technical committees as they prepared for the meetings on October 16 and 17 facilitate the agreement?
6- Erdoğan had said on October 16 that he would only address his U.S. counterpart Donald Trump and that he wouldn’t meet Pence. Why then, on October 17, has he accepted to have a 1 hour 20 minutes-long one on one talk with Pence? Why did he conduct the meeting between the delegations as equals with Pence -to which the Turkish press was not allowed to enter?
7- Erdoğan said on October 19 that they had made a deal with the U.S. but if the U.S. fail to “clear the region of terrorists and destroy the fortifications” within the 120 hours agreed upon, then the campaign would resume “at that very moment”. Trump on the other hand said in a Tweet message on October 20 that the process was going well. Should the U.S. demand to extend the deadline during the process of discussion with Putin, and considering the possible strains on the economy, could Erdoğan choose to indeed extend the deadline?
8- Putin’s private representative Aleksandr Laventyev whom Erdoğan’s Top Foreign and Security Adviser İbrahim Kalin had had a meeting with on October 17 right before the meeting with Pence, went to Damascus on October 19 to meet with Bashar al-Assad. Does this have to do with the enlargement of the safe zone from 120 to 440 km?

Where will all those YPG/PKK militants go?

9- Again on October 19, Erdoğan said that he will order to launch campaigns to other regions too if need be. The Syrian army has already entered Kobane and Qamishli is partially controlled by the Damascus government. Could it be possible to embark on such campaigns without consulting the 1998 Adana Protocol, which requires direct cooperation Assad’s government?
10- Russian authorities stated on October 16 that Turkish and Syrian foreign and defence ministries and intelligence services have been in contact “real-time”. On the same day, Russian foreign minister Sergey Lavrov had said that the solution laid in the Adana Protocol. In this case, will Putin tell Erdoğan to cooperate with al-Assad even if they don’t personally make peace?
11- Should the YGP/PKK comply with the U.S.’s request following the agreement with Turkey, where will they go? To Iraq along with the U.S. soldiers? Will their salary start coming from Russia instead of the U.S., making them merely change uniform and become part of the Syrian army? Or will they send their militants, who have been highly trained by U.S. officials for the past five years, off to perform militant actions in Turkey? Are these issues addressed with Russia as well?
12- If parties should keep their promises and a Safe Zone of 120 to 32 km is established will it be possible to ensure some of the Syrian refugees (a total of 3.6 million) in Turkey can go back? Mentioning the project to build new towns and villages for the refugees in the Safe Zone to encourage their return, Erdoğan said in the Parliament on October 1 that around 1 million refugees could return. Turkish officials are working on plans for the resettling of 300 to 500 thousand refugees in the current operation zone. Does international law allow the building of new cities for refugees? If so, who will fund this?
13- Will UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres and President Erdoğan discuss this issue during the İstanbul mediation Conference on October 31, a day after the Syrian Constitution Committee’s meeting that will take place in Geneva on October 30?

And a photo-analysis…

Is the picture too complicated? It is indeed. There’s also something that personally intrigues me, though because it’s personal, I haven’t added it to the list above. Two figures come to prominence in this whole scenario: Foreign and Security Adviser İbrahim Kalın (and his post is the equivalent of former National Security Council Secretary-General) and U.S. Special Representative Jim Jeffrey. Jeffrey has his seat in the inter-committee meetings. I’m sure Kalın, too, was there but it looks like he wasn’t given a place at the table; at least, that’s what I can make out from the photo. Trump’s National Security Adviser Robert O’ Brian is pictured sitting across Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu and across American Ambassador David Satterfield sits Turkish Treasury and Finance Minister Berat Albayrak, who had sparked a debate in financial circles by not showing up to the IMF meetings. But as I’ve said, I didn’t want to include these details on the above questions as they did not directly relate to the issues at hand.
I hope that I’ll be able to share my insight on these issues and answer a good number of these questions in the light of backstage developments, before Erdoğan meets Putin on October 22.

Terrorism and counter-terrorism: Turkey and neighbors, The Middle East Political and Economic Affairs

Reactions to Turkey’s Syria campaign: the U.S., Russia, the E.U. and the Muslim states

NATO Secretary General Stoltenberg was in Turkey on October 11 to discuss the Syria campaign with President Erdoğan (center) and Foreign Minister Çavuşoğlu. (Archive photo: Presidency)

The United Nations Security Council had an emergency meeting on October 10 to take a stance against Turkey’s military campaign into Syria, launched on October 9. There were expectations of harsh reprimand and even sanctions. That didn’t happen: there wasn’t any denouncement. Furthermore, the U.S. and Russia made a move that they seldom choose to do: they vetoed the condemnation of Turkey. We’ll get to the reasons further on in this article.
After the vote, Turkey’s UN Permanent Representative Feridun Sinirlioğlu wrote a letter to UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres who had already asked for the de-escalation of the Turkish military operation and avoid hitting civilian targets. In the letter, Sinirlioğlu assured the secretary general that the “Peace Spring” operation is being run in a “proportionate, measured and responsible” manner, stressing that “All precautions are taken to avoid collateral damage to the civilian population.” Turkish National Defense Minister Hulusi Akar and President Tayyip Erdoğan had already said similar sentences but, that letter stands for an official pledge made on Turkey’s part within the framework of international law.
A few interesting developments behind the scenes in the UN, in New York, followed this letter. For example, Permanent Representatives of six European Union (EU) countries issued a joint statement denouncing Turkey. These countries are Germany, France, Britain, Poland, Belgium and Estonia. Britain and France are permanent members of the Security Council with veto power. Germany and Poland are nonpermanent members. Indonesia and Kuwait, as two Muslim states, which are also nonpermanent members, seem like they did not object to the denouncement of Turkey.

NATO steps in

Turkey is a member of the Western defence alliance NATO. Jens Stoltenberg, NATO Secretary-General, arrived in Istanbul on October 11 to meet with Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu and President Tayyip Erdoğan.
The press conference with Çavuşoğlu was a bit tense. Stoltenberg stated that the the NATO understood Turkey’s “legitimate concerns” but that there was no consensus over Turkey’s military operation in Syria. Stoltenberg added that Turkey had to ensure that the gains we have made in the fight against ISIS are not jeopardized, as it was the common target.
Çavuşoğlu stated that acknowledging Ankara’s legitimate concerns was not enough. Turkey, naturally, wanted to hear “loud and clear” that the alliance was in full solidarity with the operation. This was odd considering Norway had stopped selling weapons to Turkey upon the operation’s announcement. According to Çavuşoğlu, the People’s Protection Units (YPG) –as the Syria branch or the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ party (PKK)- was using tactics such as burning tires in the streets in order to give the false impression as if Turkish military was shelling cities and some allies have been falling into this “black propaganda”. That was an interesting example to give.
In conclusion, what continues to tailgate Turkey in this process is not only military difficulties but also diplomatic ones.
However, statements issued by the U.S., by Russia and by E.U. countries following the vote, as well as the recent developments, help us track down the respective positions all of these countries took concerning this operation directed against the PKK’s Syria activities next to its borders, carried under the protection of the U.S. until a few days ago.

What does the U.S. say?

On this issue, we have a couple of pointers. There are President Trump’s tweets that seem to shift in tone and message overnight that reflects the White House’s position, and there are the statements issued by the U.S. Secretary of Defense. Mike Pompeo’s mention of “Turkey’s legitimate security concerns”, for example, following his talk with Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu, is not to be missed.
Trump wants to make use of this situation to prevent Turkey from getting even closer with Russia and to create grounds for new trade connections. On the other hand, with impulsive words that don’t even affect the exchange rates, such as “I’ll devastate you if you kill the Kurds” he keeps Congress lobbies sweet at the expense of offending Ankara.
It’s possible to summarize the U.S.’s current attitude in the following way: 1- It doesn’t approve of Turkey’s operation on Syrian ground. 2- It doesn’t give military backing to Turkey in this context and, for example, doesn’t share air intelligence. 3- However, it also doesn’t stand in Turkey’s way, doesn’t set up a no-fly zone despite calls from the YPG and takes back about 50 of its soldiers that could sway the American flag. 4- It keeps the objection out of politics and within a “humanitarian” framework, such as the demand to leave the cilia Kurds and Christians unharmed. 5- In that framework the U.S. claims it will be Turkey’s responsibility if the jailed ISIS militants were free again.
This means that Trump wants to say “you had all that military training and money in return” and part ways with the YGP/PKK, that Barack Obama had chosen as allies in 2014 against ISIS despite turkey2s objections, and close the Syria chapter despite Israel’s objections. That’s why Trump expects Erdoğan’s Peace Spring operation to move against ISIS in a way that would justify Trump’s position against his American opponents, perhaps before November 13 where he said he invited Erdoğan to the White House.

What does Russia say?

Considering Russian President Vladimir Putin’s Oct 11 statement, Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s statements right before the operation and just after it began, and the UN’s Russian Ambassador Vassily Nebezia’s statement following his vote to veto any denouncement of Turkey, we could sum up Russia’s position in six points: 1- Russia doesn’t approve of an operation of Syrian territory. 2- It finds Turkey’s concerns about the PKK legitimate. 3- It holds the U.S.’s collaboration with the PKK responsible for Turkey’s current operation in Syria. 4- Within that same framework, it holds the U.S. responsible for carrying out “demographic engineering” by replacing the Arab population with a Kurdish population in the East of Syria. 5- ISIS is a shared concern with Russia. 6- It suggests Ankara rekindles communication with the Bashar al-Assad regime in Damascus.
That last point especially is a hidden reference to the Adana Protocol mentioned during the Astana meeting son September 16 between Erdoğan, Putin and Iranian President Hassan Rouhani. The Adana Protocol which Erdoğan showed as a legal justification among the U.N. Chapter 51 on self-defense for the Peace Spring operation upon his return from Serbia. This protocol was signed, between Turkey and Syria on October 19, 1998, following the expulsion of the PKK leader Abdullah Öcalan from Syria upon Turkey’s threatening with war. The protocol suggests a joint struggle against terrorism by forming a joint committee, hinting a potential cooperation between Ankara and Damascus.

What does the EU say?

Some EU countries’ appeal to Turkey to end the operation, following the UN Security Council vote, points out to a certain pressure building up within EU capitals. Those capitals, on one hand, worry about yet another wave of migration for domestic policy reasons. On the other hand, they worry about their ISIS member citizens currently under PKK arrest by the YPG/PKK could be released and decide to return home. Finally, since the PKK has been well organized in European countries, particularly in Germany, France, Belgium, the Netherlands and the UK, they worry about the PKK’s possible acts of terror in their own countries.
Yet the EU failed to unite in denouncing Turkey’s decision: Victor Urban, who doesn’t want to see a single new Muslim immigrant in Hungary, and who considered the possibility that, should the operation be successful, the Syrians would return home, has vetoed the reprimand. But EU Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker’s claim, “if Turkey is asking us for money for the Safe Zone we can’t give it”, infuriated Ankara. Erdoğan harshly retaliated on October 10, saying “we don’t want your money but we can send your 3.6 million refugees”.
The EU countries’ position can be summed up as follows: 1- Turkey must stop the operation. 2- It must continue preventing immigrants from entering the EU. 3- It must not ask us for help in ensuring the immigrants can go back to Syria. 4- It must prevent the return of EU citizens who are members of ISIS.
These positions show that the EU cares about Turkey’s concerns even less than the U.S. or Russia say they do. The EU’s position looks ambivalent, unclear and far from being result-oriented.

What do the Muslim states say?

Frankly speaking, Erdoğan hasn’t had half the support he might have gotten from the U.S. or Russia from Muslim countries, except for Pakistan and Azerbaijan. The disappointment materialized in his speech directed at Justice and Development Party (AKP) provincial heads on October 10, where he said harsh, accusing words about Saudi Arabia and Egypt. Turkey had declared three days of national mourning following the death of Saudi King Abdullah in 2015.
The Arab League unanimously reprimanded Turkey; among these countries was Palestine, to which Turkey had made all kinds of help. Moreover, Qatar, which has been the greatest friend of Erdoğan’s AKP government, is a member of the Arab League as well. When Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates had made a blockade against Qatar n 2017, Turkey has sent troops in support; in 2019, Turkey trusted Qatar so much that it sold them tank shares.
The Arab League, which is scheduled to meet once more on October 13 to discuss the Peace Spring operation, don’t share the concerns of the other aforementioned countries; it looks like, even more so than being anti-Erdoğan, and anti-Turkey stance is coming into sight.
It’s also worth mentioning that Iran, which was one of the three countries in the Astana meetings alongside Turkey and Russia, is among the countries harshly criticizing Turkey’s Peace Spring operation.