Syrian officials, SDF look to Russia for support against Turkey

Russian President Vladimir Putin received his Syrian counterpart, Bashar al-Assad, in Moscow on September 13 – the first meeting between the two in Russia since 2018. During their talks, Assad referred to the old negotiations in Sochi and Nour-Sultan aimed at ending the conflict, but noted that “the political processes that we were leading previously stopped about three years ago.” In turn, the Syrian state news agency SANA reported that the leaders of the two countries discussed cooperation to “fight terrorism and complete the liberation of the lands which are still under the control of terrorist organizations.” .

The meeting focused on the Idlib de-escalation zone, which is under the control of the Turkish military, as well as the terrorist organization Hayat Tahrir al-Sham and the pro-Turkish Syrian National Army (SNA), representing the so-called moderate opposition. The SNA also controls areas named after various Turkish operations in northern Syria, including Operations Olive Branch, Euphrates Shield and Peace Spring.

Turkish troops, which were brought to Idlib in response to a Syrian army offensive in February-March 2020, have demonstrated that they are capable of inflicting heavy casualties. At present, Ankara has more than seven dozen military bases and strongholds in this Syrian region, consisting of 7,000 to 15,000 military personnel with tanks, artillery and air defense systems, including the system Improved hawk at medium range. As Turkish leaders have not reconsidered their withdrawal from Idlib, the chances of bringing the region back under Damascus control remain slim.

The withdrawal of US troops from Iraq and Afghanistan probably gives the Assad regime hope that Washington will finally decide to leave Syria, leaving its partners in the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) to fend for themselves, as happened in Afghanistan. In such a scenario, they and their affiliated Northeastern Syria Autonomous Administration (AANES) would face direct attack from both government forces, backed by Russia, and the SNA opposition, supported by Turkey.

In this context, on September 16, a delegation from the Assembly of Democratic Syria and AANES headed by Ilham Ahmad visited Moscow “at the official invitation of the Russian Foreign Ministry”, the agency Hawar Press, the Autonomous Administration’s de facto official press service, reported. “The meeting was positive. Emphasis was placed on a political solution to the Syrian crisis in accordance with UN resolution 2254 and on the need for the Syrian Democratic Assembly to participate in the political process. They also discussed the continued violations of Syria’s sovereignty by Turkey. “

AANES is trying to obtain guarantees from Moscow to protect northeastern Syria from the invasion of the ANS and Turkey, and to be able to negotiate special conditions for the region with Damascus. However, a knowledgeable Russian source told Al-Monitor that such requests from representatives of the Syrian Kurds are viewed with skepticism by Moscow as long as the SDF is a military ally of the United States.

Russian officials believe the homeless are preparing backup options in case the Americans leave. But if the American troops remain, then the administration of northeastern Syria will not rush to follow the road map it proposes to develop on the Russian side.

Russia, in turn, is trying to push the Syrian Kurds into a dialogue with Damascus, but without the contribution of the United States. The implication is that the Syrian Kurds themselves must begin to distance themselves from the United States, even before Washington makes a final decision on the withdrawal.

At the same time, the Russian side continues to prevent Damascus from hitting SDF-held areas that have been removed from the US security umbrella – for example, parts of Aleppo province (Manbij, Tel Rifat and Ain al -Arab) and the city of Ain Issa. An attempt to put them back under full Damascus rule would completely alienate the Syrian Kurds from Moscow, and the ANS and Turkey would also be prepared to simultaneously launch an offensive against SDF formations with Syrian government forces.

The increase in Turkish drone attacks and artillery bombardments against SDF positions may also signal a limited operation by Turkish troops and SNA to expand the “Peace Spring” safe zone. In particular, the experts argued that such an attack could be provoked by the Syrian Kurds themselves, who organize attacks against the ANS and the Turkish troops in the zones of operations “Olive branch” and “Shield of the Euphrates”.

The growing number of Turkish strikes on SDF positions is accompanied by increased Russian air activity over Idlib. Thus, a possible attack by Turkish troops and the SNA on certain vulnerable areas of the SDF could occur in parallel with the offensive of the Syrian government forces on the southern part of Idlib, in Jebel al-Zawiya, in order to capture a section of the strategic road M4. That is, we can talk about some mutual concessions between Moscow and Ankara.

At the same time, Moscow can use Turkish threats against Kurdish formations in northeastern Syria to divide the SDF, push fighters and entire units of this alliance to withdraw from this structure, and cooperate with Damascus. The most likely option for the gradual reintegration of these areas into the Syrian government is the scenario of Daraa and Quneitra in southwestern Syria – preserving the local administration and through the process of reconciling militant rebels with the regime. .

Bearing these facts in mind, Russia will attempt to further secure the status quo in Daraa and Quneitra, while retaining the ability of local opposition councils to autonomously manage the settlements and remain intact. Therefore, as the flags of the Syrian state are raised and checkpoints are created in opposition enclaves – as concessions to Assad – the real power of the Syrian regime remains largely formal. In addition, according to a representative of the Syrian civil opposition based in Moscow who spoke to Al-Monitor on condition of anonymity, the process of disarming opposition fighters in these regions is above all an action of relations. public in his eyes. Many other small arms remain in the hands of the rebels reconciled in these settlements.

The future of this region will continue to be a topic in the Russian-Syrian talks. The possible construction of a gas pipeline from Egypt to Lebanon via Daraa and Quneitra is the only economic project with possible involvement from Damascus supported by the United States. As a result, it may withdraw other related projects from sanctions with the participation of Jordan and other Arab states. Amman is also interested in maintaining the status quo in Daraa and Quneitra, through which the gas pipeline can pass, while maintaining the opposition enclaves, admittedly disarmed, but under Russian control, instead of possible pro formation bases. Iranian women that might appear. in their place.

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