Is a new equation for peace surfacing in Syria?

NUR ÖZKAN ERBAY
ANKARA
Published 13.02.2020 21:51

These days are critical in preventing the fire in Syria's Idlib province from spreading to other areas since the Astana and Sochi peace talks have been heavily imperiled for the first time. The peace talks seemed promising in ending the Syrian civil war, rendering the cease-fire permanent, placing a democratic system with equal representation and political transition.

The Astana process launched in 2017 under the guarantee of Turkey, Russia and Iran and the Sochi summit launched the same year in November following the Geneva process, had proven significant in covering a distance to stop the bloodshed in Syria for the last three years.

On the other side, Turkey which uses all its diplomatic energy to establish peace including the Geneva processes is the country that has made the greatest commitments for the protection of Syria's territorial integrity and the establishment of permanent political sustainability by reflecting this on the field.

Great progress was made in the Sochi summits over the last two years to establish a cease-fire in Idlib, set up Russian and Turkish observation points in the region and establish a de-escalation zone.

Besides all these, Ankara has waited patiently for Russia to find a solution while Turkish military elements are being openly attacked by Assad forces in Idlib despite the agreements and commitments with Russia and Iran toward the end of 2019.

Turkey had been watching all these attacks of the regime and retaliated moderately in recent weeks yet it kept all options on the table until the regime violated the Sochi agreement and killed 13 Turkish soldiers within two weeks.

These attacks have once again shown the accuracy and importance of Turkey's calls to Russia to renew the Sochi deal.

Thus, the fact that Russia did not rein Assad in and did not listen to Turkey's warnings, has forced Turkey to make a radical change in its tactical concept and security policy in Idlib.

Within this scope, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan underlining during his speech in the Parliament that from now on Turkey and Turkish soldiers will retaliate in case of an attack by regime forces is the most significant signal displaying this change.

On the other hand, Erdoğan saying that the agreed-upon borders according to the Sochi deal will be disregarded in the case of an attack by the regime is another strong indicator.

Now everyone's eyes are on the meetings that will be held in Moscow between the two countries' military delegations because no results were reached in the two meetings in Ankara.

Turkey had warned its interlocutors recently that the Sochi and Astana deals had been breached yet Moscow refused to acknowledge it. The latest Erdoğan-Putin phone call is a sign that despite everything, Ankara and the Kremlin intend to continue working on the Sochi process.

Yet Ankara's warnings in this regard are clear. If regime elements do not withdraw from the borders agreed upon in Sochi by month's end, Turkey will apply the mentioned transformed security concepts on the field.

It is also striking that the U.S. has retaliated against the Assad regime in Hasakah maybe for the first time after U.S. President Donald Trump's decision to withdraw troops from Syria.

Washington sending its special envoy for Syria rapidly to Ankara, condemning the regime's attacks on Turkey at the highest level and declaring that the U.S. stands by Turkey against Russia is also coinciding with this period.

Now, Turkey finds itself in a new equation with its interlocutors in terms of its military force on the ground in Syria and its righteousness at the table. Turkey has stronger arguments than ever in this equation against the EU, Russia and Iran as well as the U.S. A new refugee wave coming from Idlib is nothing the EU can risk. The end of Idlib's de-escalation zone would set Russia's and Iran's gains and international image to zero.

On the other side, since the start of the Syrian civil war in 2011, cooperation and a sharing of land was seen between the Assad regime, Daesh and the PKK/YPG terrorist organizations. The Assad regime stayed indifferent while PKK, Daesh elements and groups linked to al-Qaeda gained land. Yet, Turkey was the common target of all these groups.

Thus, the U.S. insisting on continuing its support for the PKK/YPG amid all this is similar to Russia's stance, which is to continue supporting Assad while ignoring the attacks by the regime.

Now in the light of all these developments, all eyes are on Turkey, which is a decisive actor in the new equation for the Syrian conflict.

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