Putin, Erdogan have a deal on Syria

Consider this to be a critical wounding of NATO. The straw that breaks the camel’s back will be Turkey leaving, which likely is only a matter of time. Putin has successfully and brilliantly driven a wedge between the Western powers. Russia has the most to gain while the United States has the most to lose.


After Turkish President Recep Erdogan’s meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin in St Petersburg, Ankara says the next administration in Syria should be inclusive and secular so that everyone can live with their beliefs. This is as close as Turkey has ever come to accept that Assad has a legitimate role to play.

It is the ‘morning-after’ that needs to be watched when a crucial summit meeting takes place. And, as details become available, it emerges that the meeting between Russian President Vladimir Putin and Turkish President Recep Erdogan at St. Petersburg on August 9 has been exceptionally productive.

Neither side showed interest in labeling the qualitatively new level of relationship in hackneyed terms, but then, it doesn’t matter whether one calls it ‘alliance’, ‘quasi-alliance’ or ‘entente’. What matters is that a profoundly meaningful relationship is commencing.

Russia and Turkey go back far in history and do not need foreplay. The critical mass developed within 48 hours of the conversation in St. Petersburg.

Within a day of Erdogan proposing and Putin accepting the idea of a ‘mechanism’ comprising diplomats, military and intelligence officials of the two sides to discuss the nitty-gritty of Syrian conflict, a composite Turkish delegation took off for Moscow to meet Russian counterparts on August 11.

Evidently, Erdogan traveled to St. Petersburg with an ‘action plan’. In fact, he was accompanied by spy chief Hakan Fidan.

Turkey wants the two sides to take concrete steps. The discussions in Moscow are expected to set the ball rolling.

Again, the Russian decision to convert Hmeymim Air Base as a permanent fully-operational military base in Syria has nothing to do with Erdogan’s visit, but also everything to do with the Turkish-Russian rapprochement.

The Russian Defense Ministry since disclosed the details of the plan for Hmeymim, which includes expanding aircraft apron, improving the air strip, building barracks and a hospital, assigning extra space for large transport aircraft, installation of new radio equipment including air traffic control systems, creating new sites for deployment of Pantsir surface-to-air missile and anti-aircraft artillery weapon systems and so on.

It was in August last year that Russia and Syria signed an agreement allowing Moscow to use Hmeymim for an indefinite period free of charge, but, interestingly, it was on August 9 that an entry in the official data base of Russian Duma showed that Putin has submitted the document for ratification by parliament.

Without doubt, a fully operational base in Hmeymim, which is located virtually on the Turkish border, signifies a major geopolitical decision that factors in the Russian-Turkish rapprochement.

A new ‘comfort level’ is apparent in Cavusoglu’s words. At the military and intelligence level, Moscow senses that Turkey has begun rolling back its support for Syrian extremist groups.

Of course, the whole world knows that the battle for Aleppo will determine the course of the war. Importantly, for Turkey, it is in Aleppo that its intentions toward the Syrian regime will be put to test.

The reports from Tehran, citing military sources, highlight that in the heavy fighting in the western and southern parts of Aleppo, where Saudi-backed rebel groups have launched a massive attack to break the siege, Russian jets are relentlessly bombing locations of  Jeish al-Fatah.

Of course, the bottom line is about the peace process and here the million dollar question concerns the role of President Assad in a political transition.

In a nuanced stance, Cavusoglu said in Ankara on August 11 that Turkey and Russia agree that the next Syrian regime should be all-inclusive. “We think the same as Russia on Syria’s future. The next administration in Syria should be inclusive and cover everyone,” he said, adding it “should be a secular one.”

“We always say only a political solution (in Syria) can be permanent, in terms of not hurting civilians, separating moderate opposition from terrorist groups and (ensuring) humanitarian aid… We are on the same page with Russia that Syria should have an administration under which everyone can live with their beliefs,” he said.

This is as close as Turkey has ever come to accept that Assad has a legitimate role to play. Cavusoglu spoke in full knowledge of Erdogan’s one-on-one with Putin.

All in all, Putin played his cards brilliantly by hosting a successful visit by Erdogan, with emphasis on putting the relationship back on track on an upward trajectory. He showed no interest to burden the delicate rapprochement by injecting airy geopolitics into it.

Full article: Putin, Erdogan have a deal on Syria (Asia Times)

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