Moscow, Oct 24 (IANS) With the singing of a memorandum on northeast Syria, Russian President Vladimir Putin has laid the groundwork for building a post-war Syria, which he hopes that, with the inaction of the United States, will solidify his country’s influence in the Middle East.
The memorandum signed in the Russian city of Sochi between Putin and his Turkish counterpart Recep Tayyip Erdogan can be read two ways, the Efe news reported.
One interpretation is that Moscow has accepted Ankara’s ambitions to push Kurdish-led forces out of a 30-kilometer “safe zone” along its shared border with northeast Syria. A Russian convoy has already arrived at the border with that end in sight.
Russian military police and Syrian regime border guards have taken on the challenge of completing the operation within 150 hours – a little over six days.
Once the Kurdish forces have pushed out, Russia and Turkey will begin joint patrols in the region.
One of the key objectives of Erdogan’s Operation Spring Peace has, therefore, been achieved.
At the same time, as the Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said, the Turkish offensive has come to an end.
Russia wanted to avoid a confrontation between Turkish troops and the Syrian Arab Army, loyal to Bashar Al Assad, who has recently deployed to formerly Kurdish-held zones in northern Syria.
The United States brokered a truce with Turkey, but Putin went further and convinced him to stop what could have devolved into a massacre.
In addition, if the Turkish offensive had continued, the prison camps where more than 12,000 former Islamic State fighters are being held would have been left without security, something that worries the Kremlin.
Ankara also renounces any territorial ambitions in Syria. Erdogan has long-since abandoned his calls for Assad to stand down.
The memorandum places Syrian territorial integrity and Turkish national security at level pegging.
It remains to be seen what point 3 of the memorandum, which states that the status quo around the towns of Tal Abyad and Ras Al Ain would be kept. The two cities were recently taken over by Syrian rebel militias fighting on behalf of Turkey.
Sergey Shoygu, Russia’s defense minister, said Putin and Erdogan had not discussed deadlines but Kremlin negotiators have insisted for weeks that it would be “inadmissible” for Turkish troops to remain on Syrian soil.
According to the Kremlin, only one foreign army is allowed to be in Syria, and that is Russia’s, whose soldiers were invited by Assad.
For that reason, despite the Kremlin blasting the US for “betraying” its Kurdish allies, Moscow is delighted that President Donald Trump decided to withdraw his American troops.
The same goes for the Iranians fighting in Syria, something that concerns Israel.
Israeli’s acting prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, has traveled to Moscow several times to voice these issues with Putin, who, in turn, must maintain a balancing act, knowing that Tehran is one of the other peace guarantors in the so-called Astana trio.
No sooner had the meeting in Sochi come to a close than Putin called Assad to inform him of the details of the agreement.
According to Russian media, the Syrian president agreed to it but did not hesitate in calling Erdogan a “thief.”
Assad should be satisfied, Russia had come up with a way to end Kurdish separatist gains in the northeast of the country.
In addition, Russia supports the Syrian government’s aims to reclaim control of all of the oil fields in the area.
In the past, Putin had been cautious about it, but on Tuesday he clearly denounced Kurdish aspirations as “artificial” and instigated by foreign actors, in a nod to the US.
Russia has acknowledged selling weapons to Iraqi Kurds, but refused to do the same with those living in Syria.
Although aware of the risk involved, Russia has signed up to the return of Syrian refugees.
Most are in Turkish territory. Erdogan has promised to let them settle in the “safe zone.”
The stabilization of the northeast and then of Idlib, the last rebel-held pocket of territory, is a key demand in the political settlement process.
For starters, Tuesday’s memo paves the way for the first meeting of the Syrian Constitutional Council in Geneva at the end of the month.