Turkey seeks Russian coordination for Afrin operation
Ankara has called on Russia to coordinate more closely to allow its air forces to use Syrian air space over Afrin in a potential Turkish military intervention against the People’s Protection Units (YPG).
Turkey dispatched Chief of General Staff Gen. Hulusi Akar and National Intelligence Organization (MİT) chief Hakan Fidan to Moscow on Jan. 18 to hold talks with Russian Chief of Staff Valery Gerasimov.
Diplomatic and military sources said the talks in Moscow were focused on the Turkish Armed Forces’ (TSK) impending military intervention into Afrin, where a few hundred Russian military observers are also situated. As Turkey has no direct official contact with the Syrian government, it transmits its requests to use Syrian air space from Russia.
In an interview with private broadcaster CNN Türk on Jan. 18, Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu underlined the need to be in coordination with Russia before the Turkish Armed Forces (TSK) launches its planned operation. Turkey considers the YPG a terrorist organization and an offshoot of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) in Syria. It is concerned that the YPG will establish what it calls a “terror corridor” in northern Syria and will pose a security threats to its borders.
“We are talking with both Iran and Russia for the use of the [Syrian] air space. We have to be in coordination with them for an aerial operation,” Çavuşoğlu stressed.
“We have to be in coordination with them so Russian observers are not negatively affected. We have carried out a number of our steps with Russia. We have some disagreements but that hasn’t hindered our cooperation so far,” he added.
“We should therefore be very careful in our efforts to avoid accidents,” Çavuşoğlu said, adding that there are “various countries and players in the Syrian theater.”
The Turkish foreign minister claimed that the Russians are not be in a position to oppose a potential Turkish military operation into Afrin but stressed the importance of “coordination.”
Turkish diplomatic sources, speaking to the Hürriyet Daily News, also stressed the importance of “coordination” with Moscow, seeking to play down any potential opposition from Russia to the Afrin operation.
Syrian army’s advance in Idlib needs to be stopped
One other issue Turkey and Russia discussed in Moscow is the recent military operation of the Syrian army into Idlib, violating the three-way agreement between Turkey, Russia and Iran for the creation of a de-escalation zone in this region.
“This needs to be stopped in order to have Syrian opposition groups present in the upcoming Sochi meeting. It’s not realistic to expect an agreement with the opposition while it is under attack from the regime,” Çavuşoğlu said.
Russia is due to host a “Syrian National Dialogue Congress” in Sochi on Jan. 29 and 30 to launch a process for a political solution to the Syrian civil war. Many opposition groups have not yet confirmed their participation in the meeting.