Turkey, Rus­sia co­op­er­ate in Syria de­spite dif­fer­ences

If a mil­i­tary so­lu­tion is out of the ques­tion, then those who say this should pull their troops out, says Er­do­gan

Arab News - - INTERNATIONAL - MENEKSE TOKYAY

ANKARA: Turk­ish Pres­i­dent Re­cep Tayyip Er­do­gan and his Rus­sian coun­ter­part Vladimir Putin held a closed meet­ing on Tues­day for about four hours, with a fo­cus on deep­en­ing their re­la­tions and the lat­est de­vel­op­ments in Syria.

It was the sixth time the two lead­ers had met, and this year Er­do­gan vis­ited Rus­sia three times.

“Turkey and Rus­sia agreed that grounds have emerged for po­lit­i­cal res­o­lu­tion in Syria,” Er­do­gan said dur­ing a joint press con­fer­ence at the pres­i­den­tial res­i­dence in Rus­sia’s Black Sea coastal city of Sochi.

Par­al­lel to UN-backed ne­go­ti­a­tions in Geneva, Turkey, Rus­sia and Iran are the guar­an­tor coun­tries of the As­tana deal, and have be­gun im­ple­ment­ing “de-es­ca­la­tion zones” and cease-fire mon­i­tor­ing mis­sions in north­ern Syria.

Dur­ing the press con­fer­ence, Putin said the meet­ings with Turkey about the Syr­ian cri­sis had con­trib­uted to de­creas­ing the level of vi­o­lence.

But be­fore de­part­ing for his meet­ing with Putin, Er­do­gan crit­i­cized a con­sen­sus be­tween the Rus­sian and US pres­i­dents that “no mil­i­tary so­lu­tion is pos­si­ble” in Syria.

“I’m hav­ing dif­fi­culty un­der­stand­ing th­ese comments. If a mil­i­tary so­lu­tion is out of the ques­tion, then those who say this should pull their troops out,” Er­do­gan said.

“If a mil­i­tary method isn’t a so­lu­tion, one should ap­ply to the po­lit­i­cal method and find ways to go to elec­tions as soon as pos­si­ble.”

At the end of the meet­ing, Putin and Er­do­gan agreed to fo­cus on a po­lit­i­cal so­lu­tion.

Nursin Ate­soglu Guney, dean of the fac­ulty of eco­nom­ics, ad­min­is­tra­tive and so­cial sci­ences at Bahce­se­hir Cyprus Univer­sity, told Arab News: “Dur­ing this meet­ing, both lead­ers showed a will­ing­ness to con­tinue their… part­ner­ship in Syria.”

She said: “Rus­sia would like to bal­ance the US weight in the re­gion... Ankara also wants to play a del­i­cate bal­anc­ing game re­gard­ing the big ac­tors in the re­gion, be­cause Syria is cur­rently at the epi­cen­ter of global fault lines.”

A point of con­tention be­tween Moscow and Ankara is the par­tic­i­pa­tion of the Kur­dish-led Demo­cratic Union Party (PYD) in the Rus­sia-spon­sored Syr­ian Congress on Na­tional Di­a­logue.

No state­ment was made about it dur­ing the press con­fer­ence, though Moscow re­cently de­nied Turk­ish claims that the Congress had been post­poned.

Ankara strongly ob­jects to invit­ing the PYD, and ex­perts do not ex­pect the is­sue to be re­solved soon.

Moscow does not con­sider the PYD a ter­ror­ist group, and is try­ing to give it a diplo­matic plat­form.

But Ankara sees it as an ex­ten­sion of the Kur­dis­tan Work­ers’ Party (PKK), which is des­ig­nated a ter­ror­ist or­ga­ni­za­tion by Turkey, the US and EU. Ankara ve­toed the PYD’s par­tic­i­pa­tion in pre­vi­ous peace talks on Syria.

Emre Ersen, a Syria an­a­lyst at Mar­mara Univer­sity in Is­tan­bul, said al­though Moscow views Ankara as a very im­por­tant re­gional ac­tor in re­solv­ing the Syr­ian cri­sis, it be­lieves the PYD and its mil­i­tary wing, the Peo­ple’s Pro­tec­tion Units (YPG), can play a sig­nif­i­cant role in Syria’s po­lit­i­cal fu­ture.

“Con­sid­er­ing the close po­lit­i­cal and mil­i­tary ties be­tween the PYD/ YPG and Washington, it’s im­por­tant for Moscow to use its de­vel­op­ing re­la­tions with the PYD/YPG as a po­ten­tial card at its dis­posal visa-vis the US,” Ersen told Arab News.

Ankara has ex­pressed con­cerns over mil­i­tary links be­tween Rus­sia and the PYD/YPG in the Afrin re­gion of Syria, he said.

The main mo­tive for Turkey in co­op­er­at­ing with Rus­sia and Iran in the de-es­ca­la­tion zone in Idlib prov­ince is the ex­pec­ta­tion that this co­op­er­a­tion can be ex­tended to Afrin, in which Ankara has stated its in­ten­tion to launch a mil­i­tary op­er­a­tion against the PYD/ YPG, he added.

“At the same time, how­ever, Ankara and Tehran are closely watch­ing Moscow’s deal­ings with Washington,” Ersen said.

“As in­di­cated by the lat­est meet­ing be­tween the Rus­sian and US pres­i­dents, the agenda of the two global pow­ers dif­fers sig­nif­i­cantly from that of the re­gional pow­ers,” he added.

“Since both Washington and Moscow en­joy close re­la­tions with the PYD/YPG, Ankara’s reser­va­tions on this is­sue can be ig­nored, which might be detri­men­tal to Turkey’s in­ter­ests in Syria.”

Smoke rises fol­low­ing an airstrike on the op­po­si­tion-held be­sieged town of Harasta, in the Eastern Ghouta re­gion on the out­skirts of Da­m­as­cus, on Tues­day. (AFP)

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