Russia's plan in Syria benefits Turkey

Moscow appeared to catch Washington by surprise on Friday when it announced that aircraft from the US-led coalition fighting the Islamic State (IS) in Syria would be barred from flying in four “de-escalation zones.”

WASHINGTON DC, United States (Kurdistan24) – Moscow appeared to catch Washington by surprise on Friday when it announced that aircraft from the US-led coalition fighting the Islamic State (IS) in Syria would be barred from flying in four “de-escalation zones” which are to be established in the war-torn country.

Russia, Iran, and Turkey are to be the guarantors of those de-escalation zones.

Those parties formally agreed on the Russian plan at a peace conference on Syria, held May 3 and 4 in Astana, the capital of the former Soviet republic of Kazakhstan.

The Pentagon first responded to Russia’s announcement that a ban on flights in those zones would take effect at midnight by noting Washington had received no official communication from Moscow.

Moreover, the US was “not a direct participant in the [Syrian] negotiations,” Maj. Adriane Rankine-Galloway, a Pentagon spokesman, told Kurdistan24. Therefore, it was “not a party to the agreement.”

“The Coalition will continue to target [IS] wherever they operate to ensure they have no sanctuary,” the spokesman affirmed.

David Satter, a former Moscow correspondent for the Financial Times and currently a senior fellow at the Hudson Institute, advised Kurdistan24 that Moscow’s surprise announcement was a “very good indicator of Russian intentions,” a way of marginalizing the US while showing Moscow was in control.

That was also the view of Norvell De Atkine, a retired US Army officer and Middle East expert, who also doubted the Russian plan would work.

De Atkine dismissed it as “propaganda.” The Syrian opposition has not accepted it; the more radical groups will not abide by it; and “the rivalry between Turkey and Iran will fester,” he stated.

Indeed, Dr. Mark Kramer, Program Director of Harvard University’s Project on Cold War Studies, characterized the Russian plan as a “political charade.”

The Syrian civil war “has witnessed an immense number of cynical ploys by external powers,” he said, “and this ranks right up there with the worst of them.”

From a US perspective, these may well be the most important points to note regarding the Russian move.

The de-escalation zones seem most unlikely to work, and Moscow announced them in such a way as to promote itself at the US’ expense.

From a Kurdish perspective, however, there is one more key issue, which involves Turkey.

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan visited Moscow on the eve of the Astana talks, marking his second visit to Russia in as many months.

Erdogan’s visit went extraordinarily well. At the end of it, he proclaimed ties with Moscow, strained following Turkey’s downing of a Russian jet over Syria in late 2015, were entering a “new phase” and were now "beyond normalization.”

Syria was a major topic of discussion. “During our meeting today,” Erdogan said in a joint press conference with Russian President Vladimir Putin, we “discussed regional issues, primarily, the Syrian crisis.”

Putin added they had discussed the creation of “safe zones, or de-escalation zones.”

As the statements were devoid of details, the two leaders’ discussion seemed to represent merely one more effort to end the terrible bloodshed in Syria.

However, now that some details of the de-escalation zones have been explained, some political implications are also clearer.

The entirety of Idlib Province is one of the four de-escalation zones. The Turkish-backed opposition is concentrated there.

The agreement requires Turkey to rein in that opposition, but it will also allow Turkey to protect its allies.

Kani Xulam, head of the American Kurdish Information Network, suggested Ankara was likely to use that opposition “to undermine” the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG), who are allied with the US in fighting IS in eastern Syria.

Moreover, the de-escalation zones will likely mark an end to any YPG aspirations for a corridor from Afrin westwards to the Mediterranean, even if the zones are imperfectly implemented.

The YPG had hoped it might be able to work at some point with its Arab partners in the Syrian Democratic Forces to establish a link to the sea. That will no longer be possible.

As guarantor of the cease-fire in Idlib, Turkey will have a strong role there.

Perhaps, it will station troops in the province, in the name of enforcing the cease-fire. Perhaps, it will bolster some local allies.

Whatever the case, establishing a strong barrier against the YPG will be a high priority for Ankara.

Thus, it is little wonder Erdogan now speaks so highly of his evolving relationship with Russia.


Editing by Karzan Sulaivany