Who is Obstructing the Syrian Settlement?

Valery Kulikov
SYR42111The Syrian issue has recently been increasingly highlighted in global media reports, indicating that the Middle Eastern Arab state is unfortunately becoming more and more a battleground for many countries, especially through the fault of the US, Israel and Turkey.

Thus, against the backdrop of increasing energy shortages in the West, the Syrian news agency SANA and many other media outlets have reported on the ongoing illegal plundering of Syria’s natural wealth by the United States with the involvement of Kurdish militias collaborating with them: “The US occupation forces and their mercenaries from the Washington-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) steal up to 66,000 barrels of oil every day from fields they have seized in the eastern part of the country. This represents about 83% of daily production in Syria.” In confirmation of this, residents in the Syrian village of Al-Yaarubiyah reported that another similar convoy of 144 tankers left the Syrian oil fields via the illegal Al-Mahmoudia border crossing into Iraqi territory on August 9.

With Washington’s encouragement of Israeli attacks on Syrian territory that violate SAR sovereignty, the threat of armed conflict between Israel and Syria is also becoming increasingly real. In addition to the Israeli army’s regular airstrikes on Syrian territory, Syrian state media reported on August 12 that an Israeli tank shelled the Syrian village of Al-Hamidiyah near Quneitra, injuring two people. Under these conditions leading to increased tensions in the region, the Syrian leadership has repeatedly demanded that the UN Security Council put pressure on Israel and warned that the country could use “all legitimate means” to respond to Israeli strikes on its territory.

The possibility of Ankara’s new military operation in Syria is also on the table, even despite Moscow’s active efforts, which, according to Turkish media, are aimed at diplomatically trying to reduce the intensity of such Turkish activity. Nevertheless, in order to create a buffer zone along the border with Syria, Turkey is seeking to step up security measures against the Kurdish People’s Defense Units (YPG), considering them terrorist and affiliated with the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which is waging a guerrilla war in Turkey itself and on its borders for the autonomy of 20 million Turkish Kurds. However, it should be noted that according to opinion polls, up to three-quarters of Turks support such actions in Syria, contributing to President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s approval rating.

That Ankara’s desire for a new military operation in Syria has grown recently because of the Syrian government forces’ offensive against terrorist groups in the Idlib region, which is supported by Russian, Iranian and pro-Iranian militias. In particular, against Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham (HTS), whose core is composed of Salafist militants from Jabhat al-Nusra, the Syrian branch of al-Qaeda (all three terrorist groups are banned in Russia), who have destroyed self-government bodies in Idlib, taxed towns and villages, persecuted all dissenters and carried out guerrilla and sabotage raids in areas controlled by the Syrian authorities. Ankara’s displeasure with the said offensive in the northwestern regions stems from the fact that there are Syrian National Army (SNA) formations, Islamist pro-armed jihadist units and pro-Turkish nationalists in Idlib, created during the anti-Assad uprising and now run by Turkish officers. As for the stance of the official Syrian government, for Assad, control of Idlib is an important step towards finally defeating the opposition and regaining control of Syria.

An important aspect of Erdoğan’s concern about the situation in northern Syria is also the Syrian refugee population, which currently stands at around 4 million on Turkish territory.  For the Turkish economy, which is currently undergoing a crisis, this is certainly a very heavy burden.

One way of diplomatically resolving the situation between Turkey and Syria appears to be a revision of the Adana Agreement on measures to combat the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), signed in 1998.  Under its terms, official Damascus undertook not to allow any PKK activity in its jurisdiction, while Ankara was given the right to temporarily introduce its troops into Syrian territory to a depth of up to 5 km to neutralize Kurdish radicals. According to some experts, a revision of the said agreement could reflect the new political and military reality, contribute to a Syrian settlement and increase interaction between Turkey and Syria, in particular their intelligence services.

Signals that Damascus and Ankara are ready to step up bilateral contacts have been circulating recently. For example, there have been reports of contacts between Ankara and Damascus intelligence agencies, allegedly mainly in the form of consultations between Hakan Fidan, director of the National Intelligence Organization (MIT) of Turkey, and Major General Ali Mamluk, head of the Syrian National Security Bureau. While the Turkish media previously cited Russia as mediating these contacts, it is now reported that some Gulf states have also joined the process.

The Turkish publication Türkiye reported the other day that international mediators were negotiating the resumption of contacts between Erdoğan and Assad. The last time the leaders of Syria and Turkey met was in 2011. Such contacts have been virtually ruled out in the recent past, mainly because of the rift in their relations after the Arab Spring, at the outbreak of which the Turkish leadership had actively supported Damascus’ political and armed opponents. In addition, the Syrian government has repeatedly condemned Ankara’s regular military operations against Kurdish formations on Syrian territory.

The importance of changing relations between the leaders of Syria and Turkey for resolving the situation not only between the two countries, but also in the wider region, was discussed at the latest meeting between Russian President Vladimir Putin and Turkish leader Recep Tayyip Erdoğan on August 5 in Sochi.

The influential Turkish newspaper Haberler as well as many media outlets recently reported that Turkish President Erdoğan and his Syrian counterpart, Assad, were preparing to hold telephone talks after the Russian-Turkish summit in Sochi. However, there have also been reports that, alongside this, the West has expressed concern about the rapprochement between Russia and Turkey in this regard. In particular, this was pointed out by the Financial Times. Reporter Steven Erlanger of The New York Times also shared information on the West’s growing irritation with Turkey’s successful cooperation with Russia the other day. To prevent such a rapprochement, as well as to cause a quarrel between Turkey, Russia and Syria, the US has even devised a provocative disinformation campaign with allegations that Russia is supposedly transporting military supplies for the needs of the Ukrainian special operation on merchant ships, taking advantage of the naivety of the Turkish side controlling the Bosporus and Dardanelles.

Furthermore, after talks in Sochi with President Vladimir Putin, Turkish leader Recep Tayyip Erdoğan received a blow from the Americans as revenge: the US House of Representatives approved an amendment to the draft military budget for fiscal year 2023 that prohibits the sale of new F-16 fighter jets to Turkey.

In these circumstances, the Turkish Foreign Ministry was forced to deny information about alleged projected phone calls between Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and Turkish leader Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.

All this clearly demonstrates the US goal to prevent a Syrian settlement in every possible way, which Washington intends to use in continuing its aggressive and invasive policy in Syria and the region as a whole.