Syria: How the Russian Presence in Afrin Will Affect Relations with Turkey

Recent reports on the Russian presence in the North-East of Aleppo province, also known as the Kurdish canton of Afrin, may mean that preparations are being made for a future offensive in the Idlib province, said Vladimir Yevseyev, head of the Eurasian Integration and SCO Development Department of the CIS Countries Institute.

"Afrin occupies an important position, because it can be used to attack the Idlib province with the involvement of Syrian Kurds. Russia considers this option, because the Syrian Kurds took part in the liberation of the city of Aleppo, relations with them are well arranged," Yevseyev said.

The expert added, that for further advance into the province of Idlib, which is under anti-government forces control (including "Jabhat al-Nusra" group, banned in Russia), agreements with Turkey on the closure of the Turkish-Syrian border in the region will be required.

"Russia has certain levers of pressure. In particular, Russia can begin to bomb the Idlib province more actively, pushing out militants and their families into Turkey, thus making Turkey to resume the Astana format of negotiations," Yevseyev said.

He also noted that the fighting between the Turkish military and Kurdish units in the north of Syria is part of the mutual pressure: Turkey provokes the Kurds into the conflict, and the Kurds threaten to capture the city of Al-Bab and connect it with Afrin.

In this confrontation the Americans are in the most difficult position, because they are both allies of the Turks and Kurds, Yevseyev noted. "The involvement of the Americans puts them under a double blow. On the one hand, they got the reputation of traitors of the Syrian Kurds, and on the other, they still have obligations to them. The Americans are in a very difficult situation in this respect, because they found themselves between the Syrian Kurds and Turkey," the expert said.

Yevseyev added that Russia cooperates with Syrian Kurds on local issues, such as the liberation of Aleppo, but does not go to a more extensive cooperation in order not to find itself in a position similar to the American one. Moscow's position looks more balanced and suits both the Kurds and the Turkish side.

"It is extremely important that only Russia, and not the United States, is able to guarantee a situation under which the Syrian Kurdistan will not be established. This is also taken into account in Turkey. Therefore, Russia has a much more serious influence in this zone, than the Americans," Yevseyev concluded.

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