Erdoğan’s Syria deal with Putin cannot last, expert says

Russian President Vladimir Putin and his Turkish counterpart Recep Tayyip Erdoğan struck a deal to clear northern Syria of Kurdish fighters at a triumphant summit in Sochi, Russia last week.

Despite the smiles and handshakes, the agreement probably will not last because neither leader can enforce its terms, Chris Miller, assistant professor at the Fletcher School and the Eurasia director at the Foreign Policy Research Institute, said in an article for Foreign Policy on Monday.

“Turkey and Russia may be committed, but it is unlikely that the other combatants will abide by the deal,” Miller said. “Start with the Kurds.”

Russia does not have the forces needed for a protracted campaign against the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) that Turkey labels terrorists threatening its security, and Moscow does not have much interest in reducing its fighting capacity, Miller said. Meanwhile, Syrian President Bashar Assad may be able to pressure the YPG to disarm, but he is unlikely to be willing, he said.

“Ankara is therefore wrong to think that the Syrian Kurdish question is closed. True, the joint patrols envisaged by the Putin-Erdoğan accord could keep YPG units away from the border. But as Turkey well knows, holding territory with an organised army is not the only way that Kurdish militias can wage war.”

Turkey started a military incursion into Syria in early October to combat the YPG and to set up a safe zone for the return of Syrian refugees, millions of whom are currently residing in Turkey. It sees the YPG as an extension of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which has waged a four-decade war for autonomy in southeast Turkey at the cost of about 40,000 lives, most of them Kurdish.

“Assad thinks he is winning. Turkey thinks its threats have won concessions. The YPG is on the back foot but is unlikely to give up. All sides think they can improve their position with further fighting,” Miller said.

“Trump’s withdrawal may have changed the balance of power in Syria, but the Putin-Erdoğan deal that resulted is unlikely to end the war.”