Turkey firm on buffer zone after Russia trip

Turkey firm on buffer zone after Russia trip

One of the most important outcomes of a meeting between Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and Russian President Vladimir Putin in Moscow last week was the latter’s mention of a 1998-dated bilateral anti-terror deal between Ankara and Damascus. 

Putin, at a joint press conference, recalled that the Adana Protocol between Turkey and Syria could be an important tool in addressing the former’s security concerns, instead of giving a direct answer to the question on Ankara’s efforts to set up a security zone inside the Syrian territories.

The protocol was signed on Oct. 20, 1998 between the high-level officials from the two countries after Turkey had warned its southern neighbor to cut all its ties with the PKK and not to shelter its leader, Abdullah Öcalan, on its soils. It obliges Syria to disallow the PKK and its affiliates in using its soils for any activity and establish necessary mechanisms with Turkey to assure that it will implement the protocol. 

As a matter of fact, the Adana Protocol had set an important ground in mending ties between Turkey and Syria throughout the first 10 years of the 2000’s particularly after Erdoğan and Syrian President Bashar al-Assad were able to form a special friendship. With the start of the Syrian civil war in 2011 and Turkey burning the bridges with the Assad regime, the protocol has been suspended as there were no means to implement it. 

Putin, who knows this situation perfectly, has preferred to bring it to the table for two main reasons: First, he conveyed the message that Moscow does not believe setting up a buffer zone on the Syrian border is not a good idea. Second, he suggests Turkey and Syria to make contact in order to address this problem. This suggestion, of course, has an important basis.

It’s no secret that Turkish and Syrian intelligences from time to time contact with each other to deal with mutually-important security matters. Putin also knows that Erdoğan has no objection in establishing intelligence-to-intelligence dialogue with the Assad regime.

The Russian president bringing this protocol to the fore should not mean that Moscow is trying to impose this on Turkey, but constitutes a new baseline for future talks, especially at a trilateral summit with the participation of Iran, probably next month. Putin made clear that Russia was encouraging dialogue between the Kurds and Damascus for the sake of Syrian unity, implying a new military intervention by Turkey into Syria would disrupt Moscow’s efforts.

Still, the Russian president was very careful with his words by not moving forward to openly say that his country was against setting up a security zone inside Syria. It’s because it wants to see how ongoing talks between Turkey and the United States would develop on the latter’s withdrawal and how these two countries will be able to deal with so many pending issues. He will sure not jump in the deep end at a time when all the signs point at very complicated and difficult negotiations between Ankara and Washington D.C. ahead. 

In an indirect confirmation of Putin’s strategy, Erdoğan has given the sign of a tougher line against the U.S. in his address at a party meeting in the eastern province of Erzurum. In one of his harshest statements in the last couple of weeks, Erdoğan urged the Washington administration to keep its words on setting up a buffer zone on the Syrian border. Turkey, otherwise, will create it on its own, Erdoğan said, adding that his country’s patience is running thin and it won’t wait forever.

It seems Erdoğan’s firmness on a buffer zone has even strengthened after his meeting with Putin in Moscow.

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