Lebanese Arabic news broadcaster Al-Mayadeen is reporting that Russia has begun organizing “reconciliation talks” between Syria and Turkey, in what would be an unprecedented development, given President Erdogan’s position has long been that Turkey won’t negotiate with Damascus so long as Assad is in power.
The Middle East broadcaster cited Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, who said, “Moscow will ask for start of talks between Damascus and Ankara”.
Russia’s TASS has also confirmed the initiative, making it the first significant attempt to bring the two sides to the table, given Ankara severed diplomatic ties with Damascus in 2012. Turkey could indeed be ready given it has finally gotten its way in Syria — with a long planned attack on Syrian Kurds along the border in northern Syria, which began Wednesday with an air and ground offensive.
Previously Ankara had signaled that it would only engage Damascus if it led to Assad being removed from office. But with US troops now largely out of the way, and with Trump signalling that he wants to ultimately bring them all home and let regional powers sort out the aftermath, including the threat of ISIS prisoners in northeast Syria, the final deal-makers that remain are Putin and Erdogan.
“We will be pressing for the beginning of a dialogue between Turkey and Syria. There are reasons to believe that this will meet the interests of both countries. Also, we will be promoting contacts between Damascus and Kurdish organizations that renounce extremism and terrorist methods of activity,” Lavrov said.
“We’ve heard Syrian officials and Kurdish organizations’ representatives say they are interested in Russia using its good relations with all parties to this process for assistance in establishing such a dialogue. We’ll see how to go about this business,” the Russian foreign minister added.
And in a report on Thursday as a ground battle rages between YPG/SDF forces and Turkish-backed proxy ‘rebels’ – backed also by Turkish troops – The Guardian also took note of a potential Putin “deal of the century” to end the war in Syria while ensuring American retreat:
But Putin also wants to see an end to the Syrian civil war. With the US leaving the scene, he may try to forge his own “deal of the century” between Erdoğan, the Syrian regime and the Kurds.
With the US gone from the scene, an acceptable status quo could be reached, which would no doubt involve the Kurds once again coming under Damascus, but with much less autonomy than they hoped for, and with significant security guarantees for Turkey.
Convoy of Syrian National Army (ex-FSA) heading to border at Ceylanpinar – crowds cheering them on pic.twitter.com/kR5xgT3Ci9
— emma murphy (@emmamurphyitv) October 10, 2019
The Guardian report continues:
At its simplest, the Russian president, Vladmir Putin, who is seeking to embed Russia’s influence across the Middle East, will see a chance to exploit what is viewed as Trump’s betrayal of the Kurds, the US’s bloodied battering ram in the fight against Isis. The lesson is clear: when the crunch comes, the US will not have your back, Putin will argue.
In Lavrov’s Thursday comments, he emphasized this precisely, saying:
We have been for years warning about an extreme danger of the experiment that the Americans were conducting there, trying to set the Kurds and Arab tribes against each other in every possible way. We were warning against playing the Kurdish card, as this can come to no good, of which we were also warned by our colleagues from other countries in the region having large Kurdish communities.”
Indeed Syrian Kurdish has already this week expressly stated they are open to a deal with Assad.
On Monday the commander of the US trained and armed SDF, Mazlum Abdi, indicated just that in a bombshell statement: “We are considering a partnership with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, with the aim of fighting Turkish forces,” he said.
The United States has blocked such talks for years, making Trump’s “betrayal of the Kurds” sting much worse, given the White House’s essentially ‘green lighting’ the Turkish invasion did not give the Kurds time for the crucial option of coordinating a defense with the Syrian Army or pursuing a reconciliation deal with Assad, as Rep. Tulsi Gabbard has pointed out.
— Mithri☀️ (@MithriCastle) October 9, 2019
Meanwhile, with the SDF now taking heavy casualties, and with no response to overwhelming Turkish air power, the Syrian Kurds are no doubt already reaching out to Damascus for aerial support and assistance from the Syrian Army.
This as President Erdogan announced Thursday, “109 PKK/YPG terrorists have been neutralized during Operation Peace Spring so far.”