Syria agreement better than expected for Turkey - experts

Turkey and Russia on Tuesday have announced agreement on a formula for northeast Syria that mostly coincides with Turkey’s plans for the region, which experts have widely viewed as a better-than-expected outcome for the country.

According to the agreement, the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) militia will withdraw to beyond 30 kilometres (19 miles) from the Turkish border, and leave the towns of Tel Rifaat and Manbij.

Russia and Turkey will hold joint patrols in a 10-kilometre-deep area to the east and west of the ground covered by Turkey’s Operation Peace Spring.

Hassan Hassan from the Centre for Global Policy said the deal exchanges “Syrian rebels for the Kurdish YPG, as was so expected,” and provides Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan with more than what he bargained for.

Both Russia and Turkey affirming the Adana Agreement is important, Hassan added. The agreement signed in 1998 gives Turkey authorisation to enter Syrian territory temporarily for counter-terrorism efforts.

Global Public Policy Institute’s Tobias Schneider called the deal “the end of the principal phase of the Syrian Civil War,” adding that there is still a lot of conflict that has yet to play out.

The agreement came at the end of a 120-hour pause to Turkey’s military operation, brokered by U.S. Vice President Mike Pence, and gave Russia 150 hours to remove Kurdish forces from the area.

Former U.S. Special Envoy for the Global Coalition to Defeat ISIS Brett McGurk, who has been vocal against U.S. President Donald Trump’s decision to withdraw troops from Syria, said the agreement gave the Syrian government control over the entire border region, and that the government and Russia now have the fate of Kurdish areas in Syria in their hands entirely.

The key player in Syria will be Russia instead of the United States, he added.

The United States thought it needed to a solution for Turkey’s concerns over Syrian Kurdish forces controlling a large area at its border, Director for the Foreign Policy Research Institute’s Middle East Program Aaron Stein said, but Turkey wanted to break the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), which acted as the main force on the ground for several years as part of the U.S.-led coalition against ISIS, as it considers the SDF to be a terrorist organisation.

Russian patrols are not a bad outcome, Stein said. “Russia should stay in Syria and pacify it.”

Centre for American Progress Associate Director for International Policy Max Hoffman said Turkey’s reason for launching the military operation was to break the U.S.-SDF partnership, gin up nationalist fervour in the country, and to be seen as aggressively addressing the refugee issue.

Turkey’s ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP), in its 17th year in government, lost most major cities in the country in the March 2019 local elections. A major reason for voters turning away from the president’s party that stood out in opinion polls was widespread discontent with an estimated four million Syrian refugees in the country. 

President Erdoğan repeated his plans to settle at least two million refugees in the area subject to Tuesday’s agreement, which have raised concerns of ethnic cleansing. 

An estimate by the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights says between 160,000 and 300,000 people have been displaced during the operation in the majority-Kurdish area.