A Russian-Turkish deal on security arrangements in northeastern Syria is a major win for Moscow’s diplomatic approach, but Washington was hardly crushed by it, Middle East experts tell RT.
On Tuesday the security crisis in northeastern Syria, which was triggered by US President Donald Trump’s decision to withdraw troops embedded with Kurdish militias in the face of a looming Turkish crackdown, deflated. The breakthrough comes from Russia, where Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his Russian host Vladimir Putin signed a short agreement on how security should be provided along the Syrian-Turkish border. So apparently Washington’s threat to use military force against its NATO ally Turkey won’t have to be backed by actual Tomahawk missile barrages.
The agreement provides for the withdrawal of Kurdish militias, whom Ankara considers terrorists, back from a border zone, with Syrian government forces stepping in as border guards. Turkey gets to keep, for now, the part of territory that it seized over the previous days, but is no longer trying to seize the entire length of the border with its many Kurdish settlements. Russian military police will be deployed as well, including for joint patrols with Turkish soldiers to ensure that everybody keeps calm and stays away from their enemies.
A win for Russian brand of diplomacy
The arrangement has proven that Russia can act as a mediator in a very complex situation and avert the worst outcomes, like massive loss of civilian life that many predicted could happen if the situation in northeastern Syria escalated, Grigory Lukyanov, senior lecturer at the Moscow-based Higher School of Economics, told RT.
“Russia is taking upon itself certain responsibilities that the United States failed to deliver, both to the Syrian Kurds and to Turkey,” he said. “That was taken in all seriousness in the region and elsewhere.”
The Syrian Kurds enjoyed American protection from Turkey after playing the role of ground forces for the US-backed military campaign targeting jihadists in Syria. But Ankara was irritated by the US arming and training Kurdish militias, seeing them as a threat to its national security. Washing hands of them subjected Trump to fierce criticism at home, with commenters accusing him of greenlighting a massacre. The Russian-Turkish deal seems to have averted that scenario.
“The main goal of the agreement was to suspend the military aspect of the Turkish Operation Spring of Peace,” Lukyanov said. “We’ll see how the deal is implemented in practice. As far as we know, both Turkish and Russian leadership have vested interest in the deal to work.”
Not much of a defeat for Washington
The expert warned against treating the development as a humiliating defeat for Washington, contrary to what some observers in the United States and in Russia say. “Seeing everything in the context of Russian-American relations is counterproductive. The situation in Syria proves it,” he explained.
The surprise American pullout puts it into a stronger negotiation position with Turkey and is actually half-hearted. Washington seems to have no intention to evacuate its military base from the Syrian-Jordanian border. And it will even keep military presence in the Kurdish lands, just not at the border with Turkey.
Of course “securing the oil” is morally a far worse justification for having boots on the ground than “defeating terrorists” or “protecting our allies,” Ruslan Mamedov, a Middle East analyst from the Russian International Affairs Council, a Moscow-based think-tank, told RT. The US president may try to score a few political points from taking those troops out closer to the 2020 election in the US.
“Trump may declare another withdrawal of troops from Syria as part of his reelection strategy just to say ‘I promised it and I have delivered.’ Even if in practice some of the troops stay,” he said.
The continued American military presence in Syria no longer serves the goals of US foreign policy, Lukyanov said. After all, Washington seems uninterested in how the post-war transition in the country will unfold.
“The Russian-Turkish deal, on the contrary, was signed by the sides directly involved in determining Syria’s future and interested in an expedited resolution of the conflict,” he said.