Turkey offered Russia pipeline, Idlib concessions for Syria incursion – analyst

Turkey and Russia have been negotiating since last summer over Moscow's price for an incursion into Afrin, the northwest Syrian area Turkey launched an operation against on Jan. 20, a Russian political analyst wrote for the Al Jazeera media network.

Leonid Assaev, a senior lecturer at the National Research University’s Higher School of Economics in Moscow, wrote that the “seeds were planted” for Turkey’s Operation Olive Branch last summer, when Russian Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu agreed to grant the Turkish Air Force partial use of Syrian airspace.

According to Assaev, the preparations for Turkey’s attack on the Kurdish enclave began more than a month ago, when Russian and Turkish officials agreed on the “delineation of the de-escalation zone in Idlib”, the largest opposition held territory still holding out against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s forces.

This contradicts the claims put forth by the Turkish political leadership that the operation was launched in response to an announcement that a controversial U.S.-backed border force, including to guard the Turkish-Syrian border.

The force was to be manned primarily by fighters from the mostly-Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) and Syrian Democratic Forces, which Turkey considers extensions of the terrorist-designated, Kurdish separatist Kurdistan Workers’ Party.

The Russian approval of Turkey’s incursion became clear on the first day of the operation, when Moscow pulled out troops who had been stationed in Afrin as observers, leaving the path open for the Turkish assault.

Moscow stands to gain much from the Afrin assault, including a boost to political prestige at home; the discrediting of U.S. promises of protection to its allies; and Turkish consent for a valuable gas pipeline to be constructed on Turkish waters, writes Assaev.

The Turkish Stream gas pipeline, a Russian project to carry natural gas from Russia, over the Black Sea to Europe via the Turkish region of Thrace, was given the go-ahead shortly after Moscow consented to Turkey’s Afrin operation.

Assaev also noted that Assad’s forces recaptured the Abu Duhur airport in Idlib province “without hindrance” on the same day Operation Olive Branch began.