Ankara and Moscow have reached an agreement on the coordination of troops in Syria. But USA has not yet withdrawn. What if USA leaves YPG to Manbij? Ankara starts crucial Syria negotiations with USA and Russia right now.

Hilal Köylü

Oytun Orhan, Syria expert at Centre for Middle Eastern Studies (ORSAM), explained the importance of Manbij and said that “the regime is close to Manbij. The strategic importance of Manbij is high. Natural resources and economic potential is attractive for everyone.” Hence, no sooner had USA president Donald Trump declared that USA would withdraw from Syria than Manbij was under the spotlight. Manbij was a strong target for Ankara, which was preparing for an operation to the east of Euphrates. When American troops withdraw from Manbij, the opposition and the regime forces started to compete each other for the control of it. In addition, Russia, which wants to decide with Turkey and has started intense negotiations with Ankara, has become part of the competition.

Turkish officials, including Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu, Minister of Defence Hulusi Akar, intelligence chief Hakan Fidan, presidential adviser Ibrahim Kalın, and their Russian counterparts met in Moscow. After the meeting, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov stated that they have reached an understanding.

Çavuşoğlu said that ‘there is a common will on the issue of rooting out terrorists in Syria.’ What he means by ‘common will’ is collective action against YPG. But the first question that comes into mind: was what Russia understood as common will the same with what Turkey did?

Kaynak: ORSAM

The USA said that the withdrawal would be coordinated and relieved Turkey a little bit. Turkey wants to have Turkish troops enter Manbij as US troops pull out. But the USA is still in the region. Russia is not in a situation to move without the permission of Turkey. Things are quite complicated. Will Ankara find common ground with Russia?

Orhan said that Ankara focuses on ‘not allowing YPG into Manbij’. Russia will consider this sensitivity and will not leave the control of Manbij to the regime. How, then, will a compromise be found? That is the difficulty. Orhan stated that ‘Maybe in the next days, the issue of a weapons free zone, like the one in İdlib, will be discussed. The search for a formula will continue’.

Is it a fait accompli?

Before the crucial meeting in Moscow, Kremlin said that the regime has maintained the control of Manbij. But there was no explanation afterwards. There is no comprehensive explanation from either Ankara or Russia or another party. Orhan explains this situation like this: ‘The aim here is to have a fait accompli. The regime raised YPG flags over some government buildings because it wants to make the Russian position strong in the negotiations between Turkey and Russia. But the negotiations are not over yet.’

Ankara does not want the regime to enter Manbij, because it will enter in agreement with the YPG. The regime will enter but will not withdraw the YPG from the region. Moreover, the regime will provide protection for the YPG. Ankara has such a concern. YPG also wants the regime forces in Manbij.

Even the latest events over the past several days indicate a difficult period for Ankara. Turkey must move in coordination with Russia and the USA and keep things in balance. Hence, the meeting in Moscow will be soon followed by a meeting between Erdogan and Putin. In the first weeks of the New Year, a military mission from USA will also come to Ankara and bring the issue of Syria to the table in a comprehensive manner. Orhan stated that ‘apparently, Ankara will keep Russia active in the coordination process and continue negotiations with the USA. If Turkey does not agree with Russia, their cooperation in Syria will also be dissolved since Turkey has until today done operations coordinated with Russia.’

Kaynak: Orsam

Trump said that the withdrawal of US troops from Syria would take from 60 to 100 days. This means that the first months of the New Year will be very crucial for Ankara. If Ankara cannot, in the forthcoming days, keep the balance between Moscow and Washington in the negotiations process, there will be a new Syrian crisis for Ankara. If Ankara can keep the balance everybody will have more time than before to analyze Syria.

Translation: İrem Aki