Turkey annoyed with Russia’s stance towards the YPG

Turkey annoyed with Russia’s stance towards the YPG

Last week has observed important talks between senior Turkish and American officials on a number of contested issues, including Turkey’s plans to procure Russian S-400 air defense systems and joint efforts to set up a safe zone along the Turkish-Syrian border.

U.S. special envoy James Jeffrey’s two-day visit to Ankara has flourished hopes that a doable formula in regards to the formation of a safe zone could be agreed upon in the coming weeks. Both Defense Minister Hulusi Akar and Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu have
emphasized the progress in talks while the U.S. Embassy in Ankara has described Jeffrey’s meetings as positive and constructive.

One of the points of a probable safe zone agreement is expected to be about the withdrawal of the YPG terrorists from this strip of the Syrian border. Senior U.S. officials, including Jeffrey himself, have already confirmed that the safe zone will be free of a YPG presence in order to address Turkey’s legitimate concerns.

A task force composed of military and civilian officials from both sides will convene in the coming period to fine-tune the deal, which would also accomplish the implementation of the Manbij deal.

As can be recalled, Foreign Minister Çavuşoğlu and
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo agreed on the Manbij deal on June 4, 2018, which stipulated the withdrawal of the YPG troops from this Arab city towards the eastern Euphrates.

The overdue implementation of the Manbij deal will have effects beyond the Turkish-American perspective. If the YPG troops quit Manbij, the only YPG presence in Western Syria will be in Tel Rıfat, a strategic province under the control of the Russian contingents.

As a matter of fact, Turkey has long been calling on Russia, its main partner in the Syrian theater, to let the YPG terrorist leave the area.

“Russia has promised us the removal of the YPG from Tel Rıfat, but they have unfortunately not delivered it so far,” Defense Minister Akar told the NTV news channel on May 3. He recalled that Turkey continues to retaliate in kind against YPG’s assaults on the nearby Turkish military positions. Akar has also underlined that the presence of the YPG in the enclave poses threats to the local people, as well, and that it was an item in Turkish-Russian dialogue.

In a recent attack by the YPG on April 30, a Turkish soldier was killed and three were injured in Tel Rıfat province. Turkey had retaliated against the YPG troops. It’s noteworthy that President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and Russian President Vladimir Putin discussed developments in the war-torn country in a phone conversation on the same day. 

Tel Rıfat is one of the most critically important locations in northwestern Syria, located between Afrin region and al-Bab provinces, both under the control of the Free Syria Army (FSA) with the support of the Turkish military. Furthermore, Menagh military airport situated in the north side of the province plays an important role in the continued supply of all sorts of assistance to the YPG, including ammunition and weapons.

Turkey had sought to extend its Afrin operation into Tel Rıfat in 2018, but it was not allowed by the Russians who have a contingent of military police in the province. Turkey and Russia had coordinated three coordinated but independent military patrolling missions in the province, but the former’s complaints about the YPG’s presence in the region have not gone away.

The YPG’s alliance with the United States in the eastern Euphrates has always been on the top of Turkey’s security concerns, but it was at the same time closely following Russia’s continued engagement with the same group. The PYD, a political wing of the YPG, has an office in Moscow and was supported by Russian officials in taking part in the political transition process for future Syria, a fact well-known but not loudly voiced by Ankara.

Comparing to the situation in Idlib, Tel Rıfat may be considered not that urgent, tough. Home to more than 3 million residents, the province is still a safe haven to more than 15,000 heavily armed radical jihadist terrorists. A deal between Turkey and Russia in September 2018 has avoided a full-scale anti-terror operation but at the same time paved the way for the jihadist groups to extend their influence over the civilians.

Reports from the field reveal intensified attacks by the Syrian army since April 25 and the dislocation of thousands of civilians towards the Turkish borders. Yet, there are no calls by the Russian government for a halt to the operations.

Although too early to speculate, suggestions that these said developments in Idlib and Tel Rıfat signal a tougher period for the Turkish-Russian bid in Syria would not be an exaggeration.

Serkan Demirtaş,