Turkish-Russian deal makes Ankara reliant on Moscow and Damascus

While a deal struck by Turkey and Russia on Tuesday over northern Syria has made Ankara more dependent on Moscow and Damascus, doubts remain among experts on whether the agreement can be successful implemented, the Voice of America reported on Thursday.

The deal between Moscow and Ankara has halted Turkey’s military operation into territories controlled by the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) in northern Syria, but Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said on Wednesday that if Russia failed to fulfil its promises, the campaign would resume.

Turkey sees the SDF and its affiliate the People Protection Units (YPG) as extensions of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK).

Ankara accepted a 150-hour ceasefire to let Russian and Syrian government forces facilitate the SDF’s withdrawal to 30 km south along the Turkish border.

The Turkish-Russian agreement followed a deal between Turkey and the United States made last week that forced the SDF to withdraw 32-km south along a 120-km strip on the Turkish and Syrian border between Tel Abyad and Ras al Ayn, where Turkey will retain control according to the Ankara-Moscow deal.

But the memorandum of understanding between Turkey and Russia ends Erdoğan’s goal of creating a 450-kilometres long and 30-kilometres deep buffer zone into Syrian territory, VOA said. Instead, the deal says joint Turkish-Russian patrols will enforce a 10-kilometre buffer zone along much of Turkey’s southern border. 

“The implementation of the deal is passed on to both the Syrians and the Russians,” VOA quoted former senior Turkish diplomat Aydın Selcen, who served in the region, as saying. 

But analysts are wary about the trust issues between Ankara and Damascus as Turkey has backed the Syrian rebels since the start of the civil war in Syria in 2011. Those rebels, formerly known as the Free Syrian Army, joined Turkey’s military operation in northern Syria this time rebranded as Syrian National Army. 

One of Turkey’s concerns is the possibility of Kurdish fighters rebranding themselves as a part of the Syrian army. Erdoğan told reporters on Wednesday that Russian President Vladimir Putin had reassured him Russia would not let this happen.

“Ankara will also be mindful, Moscow is courting the region’s Kurds,” said international relations professor Hüseyin Bağcı of Ankara’s Middle East Technical University. Despite closer relations with Turkey, Russia is not closing the PYD (political wing of the YPG) and PKK offices in Moscow, he said.