Russian delegation’s Ankara visit before Erdoğan-Pence meeting no coincidence - analysis

Russian diplomat Alexander Lavrentyev’s meeting with Turkish officials on Thursday that took place around the same time Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s meeting with U.S. Vice President Mike Pence was not a coincidence, veteran journalist Murat Yetkin wrote in his blog on Friday. 

Lavrentyev, Russia’s special envoy for Syria had talks with a Turkish delegation headed by Turkey’s presidential spokesman İbrahim Kalın over the escalating tensions in the region after Turkey launched a military offensive in northern Syria last week.

Pence arrived in Ankara the same day with U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo also to discuss the situation in Syria. Turkey and the United States agreed on a five-day ceasefire after a more than four-hour meeting in Erdoğan’s presidential palace. 

According to the temporary ceasefire deal, the Kurdish People Protection Units (YPG) will withdraw in 120 hours from territories in northern Syria where Turkey wants to establish a 32-kilometre safe zone. U.S. officials announced that American troops will not remain inside the safe zone Turkey wants to set up.

Erdoğan said on Friday that the safe zone will cover an area that starts from the northwestern Syrian town of Manbij and stretches to Syria’s Iraq border. While the Turkish offensive was continuing, the Kurdish-led administration in Syria agreed on a Russia-brokered deal with Syrian President Bashar Assad to hand over the control of Manbij and Kobani (Ayn al Arab) to Syrian government forces.

Pence told reporters on Thursday that Turkey needed to negotiate with Russia, an ally of Assad, further details of its safe zone plans. Erdoğan, who will meet Russian President Vladimir Putin on Tuesday in Sochi, said on Friday that Ankara demanded from Assad government to remove the YPG fighters in Manbij. 

“Because of that it was not a coincidence that there was a meeting with a Russian delegation in the presidency just before the critical meeting with the U.S. delegation on October 17,” Yetkin said. While Lavrentyev and Kalın were meeting, U.S. Special Representative for Syria Engagement James Jeffrey and U.S. ambassador to Turkey David Satterfield were waiting outside their tun, he said. 

The Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) and the YPG had no other chance than accepting the U.S.-brokered truce, Yetkin said. “But the statement from Damascus saying ‘we do not want a Kurdistan in Syria’ came just after those developments,” he said. 

“In summary, the key of Syria is in Russia’s hands after the withdrawal of the United States,” he said.