GP Insights

GP Insights # 171, 27 October 2019

Turkey-Russia Axis in the Middle East, and a new reality for the Kurds
Harini Madhusudan

What happened?
Putin and Erdogan, Presidents of Russia and Turkey, respectively, met at Sochi for seven hours to discuss the “Operation Peace Spring.” They agreed that the operation would continue in a limited area, and Moscow understands the reasons behind the Turkish military incursion into Syria. “Ultimately, the country must be freed from illegal foreign presence,” said Russia. After the truce ended, they would patrol the borders together. Civilians in the Kurdish areas were seen hurling insults at a US troop convoy that crossed from northern Syria into Iraq, trying to vent anger over a withdrawal they see as a betrayal. Syrian military units moved into several villages in northeast Syria as part of the agreement with the Kurds. 

After the meeting concluded, it was decided that the Kurdish forces would have to be beyond thirty kilometres from the border. The Syrian army would be deployed at the border, and there would be joint Russia-Turkey Patrols along the border. Part of the outcomes was the statement that called the US stance on Syria, “Too fluid and contradicting.”

What is the background?
The US Vice President Mike Pence brokered a truce in the recent aggression by Turkey on the Syrian border. Closer to the end of the truce, Putin and Erdogan met at Sochi and discussed on the essential matters at the region. The agreement announced that six days from then, the Russian and Turkish forces would jointly start patrolling a narrower, ten-kilometre strip of land in the “safe zone” that Ankara wants in northeast Syria. US Vice President Mike Pence voiced his support for the establishment of the safe zone. 

The US withdrawal from northern Syria has been heavily criticized by various communities, the US lawmakers, some of Trump’s fellow Republicans, and is seen as a betrayal of Kurdish allies who have helped the United States fight Islamic State in Syria. 

Turkey has sought a “safe zone” along the 440 kilometres border with northeast Syria, but its assault is primarily focused on the two border towns in the centre of that strip, Ras al-Ain and Tel Abyad. The Syrian and Russian forces have entered the two border cities, Manbij and Kobani, which lie within Turkey’s planned “safe zone” and are to the west of Turkey’s military operations. Erdogan has stated that he could accept the presence of Syrian troops in those areas, as long as the YPG are pushed out.
What does it mean?
Russia and Turkey’s friendship is making the news for the second time this year. First was when Turkey chose to forego the US fighters and went with Russian technology, and the second one is during this confrontation. Game theory suggests that Turkey went with the most reliable option at the moment, and this might be seen as a win-win situation for all except the Kurds. The deal between Russia and Turkey can be seen as a significant blow to the self-determination movement of the Kurds. The US stance, as well as the outcomes of Turkey-Russian bonhomie, have sufficiently pushed the Kurds to a corner. One must wait for what would be the next move of the Kurds. 

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