Feb 16 2019

Sochi proves Russia’s patience with Turkey in Syria running low - analyst

Russia’s alliance with Turkey and Iran is showing cracks as evidenced in Sochi on Friday when the three countries essentially disagreed on the way forward in Syria, wrote Thomas Seibert in his article for the Arab Weekly.

Russia, Turkey, and Iran on February 14 met in the Black Sea resort of Sochi to discuss Syria as the United States prepares to withdraw its troops from the war-torn country. 

Russia and Iran signalled that their ‘’patience with Ankara regarding Islamist extremists in Idlib province in north-western Syria was wearing thin,’’ Seibert wrote, underlining that Turkey failed to get approval from Iran and Russia, the main partner of Syria’s government, to establish a buffer zone in north-eastern Syria to push Kurdish militants away from the Turkish border.

Highlighting that the withdrawal of U.S. troops, who control about 25 percent of Syrian territory with the help of Kurdish allies, has triggered tensions, Seibert noted that Moscow has complained that Ankara has not done enough to keep its side of the bargain to purge İdlib of Islamist militants.

Turkey and Russia agreed in September to create a demilitarised zone in the northwest Idlib region to be cleared of all heavy weapons and radical fighters.

“Creating the Idlib de-escalation zone is a temporary measure. Aggressive sorties of militants must not go unpunished,” Putin said, even suggesting that the agreement with Turkey could be called off.

Russia stressed that it wanted to see joint measures “to completely destroy this hotbed of terrorists.’’

Seibert pointed out that Erdoğan, for his part, blamed the Damascus government.

“I have conveyed our expectations as to the regime obeying the truce [in Idlib] to my Russian and my Iranian colleagues,” Erdoğan said.

Russia, Turkey and Iran are searching for a “middle way” in Idlib, Seibert quoted Oytun Orhan, coordinator of Syria studies at the Centre for Middle Eastern Studies, a think-tank in Ankara, as saying.

Meanwhile,, both Putin and Rohani maintain that the Syrian government should move into the area held by U.S. troops and the U.S.-backed Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG).

Russian consent to another Turkish cross-border operation would be required, however, and there was no indication that Erdoğan returned to Turkey with a nod by Putin,  Seibert quoted Heiko Wimmen, project director for Iraq, Syria and Lebanon at the International Crisis Group, as noting.

Turkey announced a third military operation into neighbouring Syria in December, targeting the YPG, which it designates a terrorist organisation.

“I can’t see a green light here, not even a yellow one. Will Erdogan go in without that green light from Moscow? I very much doubt it,” Wimmen said.