As Ankara and Moscow agree on a deal to evacuate the Kurds and jointly patrol northeast Syria, Congress should look for Trump Quid Pro Quo with Russia on Syria. The way it is looking for the same with Ukraine. The question to ask: Can Donald Trump build a Moscow Trump Tower from his prison cell?
Both President Erdogan of Turkey and President Putin of Russia announced that Syrian and Russian forces will deploy in northeast Syria to remove Kurdish YPG fighters and their weapons from the border with Turkey. The deal cements Russian power and almost American loss of power in the region.
SAFE ZONE FOR TURKEY, NOT THE SYRIAN REFUGEES
Hours after both leaders announced the deal, the Turkish defense ministry said that the United States had told Turkey the withdrawal of Kurdish militants was complete from the “safe zone” Ankara demands in northern Syria.
The ministry said in a statement that there was no need to initiate another military operation at this stage. Turkey effectively ended its military offensive that had begun on Oct. 9.
The agreement follows a U.S.-brokered truce which expired on Tuesday and underlines the dizzying changes in Syria since U.S. President Donald Trump announced the withdrawal of American troops two weeks ago ahead of Turkey’s cross-border offensive against the Kurds.
The Russia-Turkey agreement struck in the Black Sea resort of Sochi endorses the return of Assad forces to the border alongside Russian troops. How will Erdogan convince 2 million Syrian refugees to return to Syria with Assad terror is a mystery. Safe Zone, after all, was for Turkey’s safety and not the Syrian refugees.
Under the pact, the Russian military police and Syrian border guards would start removing the YPG from the Turkish border.
Six days later, Russian and Turkish forces will jointly start to patrol a narrower, 10 km strip of land in the “safe zone”.
TRUMP QUID PRO QUO WITH RUSSIA
U.S. Vice President Mike Pence voiced support for the establishment of the safe zone.
Pence told a Heritage Foundation gala in Washington.
We may well give the international community an opportunity to establish a safe zone between Turkey and the Kurdish population in Syria that will ensure peace and security.”
Earlier on Tuesday, Jim Jeffrey, the senior U.S. diplomat on Syria, dismissed the Sochi deal. He questioned whether the Russians could get the YPG to leave the territory it covers.
Jeffery told a congressional hearing:
It’s full of holes. All I know it will stop the Turks from moving forward. Whether the Russians will ever live up to their commitment, which is very vague, to … get the YPG out of their areas, I don’t know.
PUTIN CALLS DEAL ‘MOMENTOUS’
After six hours of talks with Erdogan in Sochi, Putin expressed satisfaction at decisions he described as “very important, if not momentous, to resolve what is a pretty tense situation which has developed on the Syrian-Turkish border”.
A senior Turkish official described it as an “excellent” deal which would achieve Turkey’s long-held goal. One of a border strip cleared of the YPG, which Ankara regards as a terrorist organization.
Last week’s U.S.-brokered deal was limited to the central part of the border strip between the Syrian towns of Tel Abyad and Ras al Ain. Tghis is where Turkish forces had focused their military offensive.
Under the deal with Moscow, the length of border the YPG must evacuate is more than triple the size of the territory agreed upon by the U.S.-Turkish accord. It covered most of the area Turkey had wanted to include.
Soner Cagaptay, director of the Turkish program at the Washington Institute, said in a tweet:
The outcome of the Putin-Erdogan meeting in Sochi today indicates that Erdogan has become a master of leveraging the U.S. and Russia against each other to maximize Ankara’s gains. Turkey got the safe zone it wanted all this time.
Syrian and Russian forces have already entered two border cities, Manbij and Kobani. They both lie within Turkey’s planned “safe zone” but to the west of Turkey’s military operations.
Erdogan has said he could accept the presence of Syrian troops in those areas. As long as the YPG fighters evacuate them.
So much for the Syrian refugees. The most exchangeable chip in everyone’s hands.
Reuters contributed to this article.