Analysts expect Russian policy shift on PYD

FATIH ŞEMSETTIN IŞIK @semssami
ISTANBUL
Published

When the PKK-affiliated Democratic Union Party's (PYD) armed People's Protection Units (YPG) started an offensive against moderate opposition groups in northern Aleppo with support of the Syrian regime backed by Russian airstrikes in February, a new exodus of the refugees started, raising concerns in Turkey regarding its capacity to handle refugees, which already reached 2.5 million.

In addition to that, tensions reached peak level in Turkish-Russian relations since crisis that ensued after Turkey shot down a Russian jet in November last year.

After six months, the situation was reversed both on the battlefield and in the center of decision making in the Syrian civil war. President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan met with Russian President Vladimir Putin on Aug. 9 in St. Petersburg and decided to restore relations. The two leaders announced their intentions for immediate reconciliation in the area of the economy. However, Syria and Russia's support of Bashar Assad and the PYD continue to be a sensitive issue.

A meeting between the Turkish delegation led by National Intelligence Organization (MİT) Chief Hakan Fidan and Russian officials held on Thursday saw the two sides agree that Turkey will join airstrikes against DAESH in Syria with Russia's coordination help in contact with Syrian officials. The agreement was also confirmed by Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu on the same day.

"Relations between Russia and the PYD were not strategic, but rather were established on a pragmatic basis," Emre Erşen, an academic at Marmara University, told Daily Sabah.

He said that Turkey's cooperation is more of a priority for Russia than the PYD, but it is still too early to see.

"Russia might prioritize cooperation with Turkey rather than with the PYD. I consider Turkey as a more important partner than the PYD for Russia."

Since October last year, Russia has been directly involved in the civil war in Syria and started air offensives both for Daesh and the opposition groups fighting against Assad. The incident became a game changer in the region and changed the course of the civil war. Relations between Moscow and Ankara declined during this rapid change and Turkey downed a Russian fighter jet over the Turkish-Syrian border for violating Turkish airspace on Nov. 24 last year.

Sertaç Canalp Korkmaz, research assistant at Center for Middle Eastern Strategic Studies (ORSAM), thinks Russia is an important player in Syria and the Western attitude to Turkey after the July 15 coup attempt led by the Gülenist Terror Group (FETÖ) caused Turkey to want to quickly solve its problems in foreign policy.

"President Erdoğan's being accompanied by senior security officials in his last visit was a precursor of important developments on the security issue between Russia and Turkey in Syria," he said, and added that such cooperation will strengthen Turkey's hand in the fight against DAESH and the PYD.

"Yet we should not forget many countries' forming bases in Syria for close contact with the PYD and thus ignore Turkey's national security."

Turkey-U.S. relations, which have already been strained by the issue of FETÖ leader Fethullah Gülen's extradition, is also expected to be influenced by this agreement.

Erşen stressed that despite the U.S. having deeper relations with the PYD compared to Russia, the course of events in the Turkey-U.S. relationship will affect this alliance in Syria.

"If this new dialogue between Turkey and Russia is perceived as negative in Washington, the cooperation might be fortified. However Turkey's concerns are also important and they are currently in a difficult situation. I don't think they can do this after Gülen's extradition issue."

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