nsnbc : Russian President Vladimir Putin and Turkish President R. Tayyip Erdogan met for a working meeting at a presidential residence in the Black Sea resort of Sochi on Monday; Among others to discuss the prospect of a political resolution for the war in Syria.
The office of Turkey’s presidency stated “We had an opportunity to discuss the latest developments about the Syrian conflict. We both agree that at the point we have reached there is now a basis for us to focus on political resolution.” The Kremlin issued a statement quoting Putin as saying that Russia and Turkey “cooperate very closely on security in the Syrian region.”
Iran, Turkey and Russia are the guarantors of the peace talks in Astana where both the Syrian government and opposition groups not listed as international terrorist organizations by the UN Security Council participate. The Astana talks have among others led to ceasefires and de-escalation zones. The talks are held parallel to the stalled Geneva talks.
Putin told reporters “I would like to note with satisfaction that our joint work with Turkey and Iran as guarantors of the ‘Astana process’ continues to yield concrete results. … The level of violence has certainly decreased and favorable conditions are being created for promoting inter-Syrian dialogue under the auspices of the UN.”
Russia and Turkey began a process to normalize relations following Turkey downing a Russian military jet in late 2015. Russian Ambassador to Turkey Andrei Karlov was also killed by a Turkish off duty police officer under extremely suspicious circumstances in December 2016. However, Putin called Turkish-Russian relations “almost fully restored” as he and Erdogan prepared their teams for the talks. “
Naturally, our bilateral relations as well as cooperation in solving regional issues give us a chance to look to the future with greater clarity,” added Erdogan, according to the Kremlin.
However, prior to the meeting, Erdogan expressed his frustration at the presence of US and Russian troops in Syria. The Turkish daily Hürriyet quoted Erdogan as saying: “I am having trouble understanding these comments. … If a military solution is out of the question, then those who say this should pull their troops out.”
That said, Turkey has troops deployed in Syria as part of agreements reached in Astana, but Turkey has, since the onset of the war had troops, including special forces deployed among “rebels” in Syria and backed both al-Nusra and ISIS militarily. Erdogan’s remark came in response to a joint statement by Putin and Trump on Saturday following their meeting in Vietnam where the two agreed that only a political solution could end the war in Syria.
Neglecting the fact that Turkey participated in the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq to topple Saddam Hussein and that Turkey still has troops there, Erdogan reminded reporters that “the United States had promised to leave Iraq but hasn’t done so”. “The United States has 13 bases in Syria in total and Russia has five others,” Erdogan said.
The US-led international coalition against ISIS has supported Kurdish YPG / YPJ fighters in northern Syria. Turkey has opposed the alliance, claiming the forces of the People’s Protection Units (YPG). The U.S.-backed YPG/YPJ constitute the main and core fighting force within the also U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF).
Turkey has sharply criticized the United States for its support of and cooperation with the Kurds. Ankara designated the PYD, YPG/YPJ nexus as terrorist organizations allied and on par with Turkey’s Kurdistan Worker’s Party (PKK).
Ankara has since relations with Moscow were restored tried to lobby against the inclusion of the PYD, YPG/YPJ in peace talks in Geneva and Astana. However, Turkey has difficulties with convincing Russia despite the fact that the YPG/YPJ enjoy U.S. military support. The PKK and Syrian Kurds have traditionally been backed by Moscow and Damascus as “stay-behind” assets in the case of a war between Turkey and Syria or a war between Russia (ex Soviet Union) and NATO.
It is safe to presume that the YPG’s release of Russian ISIS women and children was well-timed to coincide with Erdogan’s visit in Sochi. Abdulkarim Omar, Head of Jazira Foreign Relations Commission said Kurdish military and civilian authorities in Syrian Rojava handed over to the Russian government 52 Russian citizens known as ISIS families on Sunday. The families numbered nine women and 43 children. Abdulkarim Omar said Kurds in Syria appreciated Russia’s support for their efforts to achieve self-rule as well as Kurdish participation in Syria’s political process. He added that the handover of the “ISIS families” was a gesture of reciprocity between Kurds and Russia. Omar added:
“From our commitment to human rights and international treaties and agreements, today a number of Russian citizens will be handed over on their own accord and without any force as long as they have not taken part in combat and have no blood of Syrians on their hands, they’ll be handed over to the Russian government.”
At a ceremony attended by Kurdish and Russian military and civilian envoy the families were put on buses and under Russian government responsibility. Nuri Mahmoud an official spokesman for the People’s protection Units (YPG) told reporters:
“We’re handing over ISIS families to the Russian state. I’d like to say that as YPG, YPJ and the SDF we treated those women humanely.”
Dr. Ziad al-Sabsabi, Deputy Head of Foreign Relations Commission at the Russian Duma also told reporters that: “Russia always insists on the participation of Kurds in the Geneva talks, Astana talks, and future conferences. ..- But we’ve to be also realistic. Russia cannot completely ignore the Geneva talks just to impose a Kurdish participation. It’s no secret that Russia always represents Kurdish interests and takes into account their side in all negotiations.”
Moscow signaled clearly again, that Russia has insisted and continues to insist that Kurds, that is the PYD and its military wings the YPG and the all-female YPJ should be represented in Geneva and Astana to find a political solution. With regards to the Kurdish question there is, in other words, and despite “restored bilateral relations” a greater convergence in the policies of Moscow and Washington than there is in the policies of Ankara and Moscow.
CH/L & F/AK – nsnbc 14.11.2017