With the US troops on their way out of Syria, Russia is now the most important arbiter among the different conflicting parties in Syrian scene, writes Valdai Club expert Galip Dalay. To put it another way, all the roads will lead to Moscow for the next stage in Syrian conflict. Although this gives Russia more leverage, this will also put more of the onus on the Russian shoulders.
After receiving the green light from US President Donald Trump for Turkey’s long-desired military incursion into the Syrian Kurdish YPG-dominated northeastern Syria, Turkish President Erdogan swiftly moved to achieve his longstanding goal of creating a safe zone inside this country. Though Trump’s consent was crucial for Turkey’s incursion into Syria, the nature, depth and extent of Turkey’s long-desired safe zone will be mostly decided through engagement with Russia, not the USA. And this is what will be on the agenda during today’s Putin – Erdoğan meeting in Sochi.
The question is as follows: will Russia go along with Turkey in realising Turkey’s long-desired safe zone scheme? To start with, Russia is still motivated and interested in keeping Turkey in the game in Syria. Therefore, it is plausible to anticipate that Russia will accommodate some of Turkey’s concerns and desires. It is likely to accommodate a limited buffer zone, but, if Russian officials’ previous statements are any indication, Moscow is unlikely to agree to Turkey’s version of the safe zone (400 km-plus length and 30 km-plus depth).
Instead, Russians will push for an Adana plus agreement. In 1998, Turkey and Syria signed Adana agreement, which focused on the border security and gave Turkey a limited right to pursue members of the Kurdish Workers’ Party (PKK) inside Syria. Russia wants the Adana agreement (with additional protocols) to form the basis of engagement between Astana and Damascus. It is unlikely that Turkey and Syria will establish relations soon. But the level of contact between the countries’ governments will increase significantly. Likewise, Russia isn’t in favour of any expansive Kurdish autonomy project in Syria. This provides a modicum of solace for Turkey. However, if we take Russia’s previous policy as guidance, Russia strictly goes for quid pro quo in Syria. This in return means that any Russian concession to Turkey is likely to necessitate that Turkey make a similar concession regarding the Syrian opposition and/or Idlib. Therefore, the chains of the events that have been unleashed by Trump’s decision to withdraw from Syria doesn’t only mean that the Syrian Kurdish YPG has suffered a major loss and setback, it means that the Syrian opposition should also be expected to lose out from this process.
All in all, with the US troops on their way out of Syria, Russia is now the most important arbiter among the different conflicting parties in Syrian scene. To put it another way, all the roads will lead to Moscow for the next stage in Syrian conflict. Although this gives Russia more leverage, this will also put more of the onus on the Russian shoulders.