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September 05, 2016

Syria - Who Wins In The Turkish-Russian Deal?

Two headlines today support the claim that "western" media reporting often defies the observable reality.

Isis has lost control of its last territories on the border with Turkey, monitoring groups say, in a major blow to the group's ability to receive foreign fighters from the rest of the world.

Neither is ISIS cut of from the world, nor from NATO. Fighters as well as goods can still cross to and from Turkey like they did throughout the last years.

Just take a look at the map:


The Turkish-Syrian border between Azaz, Al-Ra'i and Jarablus, with ISIS (grey) on the southern side, was always open for traffic between the two areas. Now the Turkish army and Turkish proxy forces of "moderate rebels" moved into the green strip of land on the Syrian side. This did not seal or close the border, as other countries had demanded. It simply moved the border south. Crossing between the ISIS held area and the Turkish controlled area will now be easier because media will have no access to the area. Deals will be made out of sight and money will flow as well as traffic.

There was no fighting at all about the strip between ISIS and the Turkish forces. The Turks told ISIS to move south and it did so before the Turks and its mercenaries moved in. There was not even one Turkish casualty from fighting ISIS over the area. The change of the territorial borderline was obviously done in mutual agreement.

It is ridiculous that some media try to sell that as a closing of the border or as a cut off. It is the opposite.

Turkey's main intention with this move was to prevent a connection of the (yellow) Kurdish areas in the east and the west. Such a Kurdish controlled connecting strip along the border would indeed have sealed it. ISIS traffic would not have been allowed to pass Kurdish checkpoints.

Turkey will probably try to annex the area it has taken. There are plans to build new cities on the Syrian side to house refugees currently in Turkish camps. Turkey could thereby offload a major burden its war on Syria has brought onto it.

Russia and Iran had agreed to the Turkish move into the area after Turkey promised to end its support for attacks on Aleppo city. It has yet to be seen if Turkey will stick to this promise. Some of the Turkish proxy fighters involved in the attack on Aleppo were pulled back and moved to the now occupied border strip. But material support for the attack in form of ammunition and other supplies seems to continue.

Two decent analyst argue that the agreement, while not entirely preferred, is still in Russia's and Syria's advantage.

Elijah Magnier says (Arabic) (English, unedited) that Russian policy in Syria is like a Matryoshka doll with one item placed inside the other. The most elaborate of these dolls has 50 levels of nesting with a total of 51 dolls. Says Magnier:

Putin seems have pulled out his first Matryushka doll by bombing the enemies of Damascus last September. He pulled out the second smaller doll when accepting a cease-fire. Then he pulled out a third doll by helping to besiege Aleppo the first time. The fourth was skilfully brought out when he supported Erdogan and approved –Putin before Obama – a safe passage for the Turkish troops into Syria.

Should Turkey move away from the agreement, or the U.S. try something nasty, another outer doll of the 47 left will be removed and a new Russian plan will become visible.

Raphaël Lebrujah of the French Mediapart giving his view (French) (English, machine translated) the Turkish-Russian deal:

Putin has just played a masterstroke. Indeed, in addition to having obtained many benefits from Erdogan, he just throw Turkey, an old adversary in the Syrian hell. Erdogan was carried away by his obsession, the fight against Kurdish.
Russia achieved the feat with one stone three hits against three opponents of the regime: the Kurds, the Syrian Islamists and Turkey. By destabilizing relations within these three actors and one against throwing in others it is a masterstroke. Better, the US appear to be divided between pro-Turkish and pro-Kurdish. Indeed, the CIA and US policies appear closer to the Turkish interests and the pentagon, that of the Kurds.

Economically Russia wins by again opening trade with Turkey. The "moderate" Islamist in the new Turkish zone are now separated from the al-Qaeda groups around Aleppo. Turks and Kurds in Syria will stay busy with fighting each other. Indeed Russia can use the Kurds against Turkey should Erdogan try to play foul. A few anti-tank or anti-air weapons smuggled into Turkey's east from Armenia will hurt the Turkish army in its fight against the local PKK. The Turkish conscript army, already weakened through purges after the recent coup, can not absorb high casualties without alarming the Turkish public.

ISIS will still be connected to Turkey. But its fighting power is severely diminished and it is already falling back into guerrilla mode. It now mostly avoids open battles. It will be ground down over time.

Surprises may still come from ISIS as it has some very well trained personnel. Its new military commander is Gulmurod Khalimov, a special forces officer from Tajikistan, long trained in counterterrorism by U.S. advisors and special forces. He replaces the dead Abu Omar al-Shishani, a Chechen special force officer from Georgia, long trained in counterterrorism by U.S. advisors and special forces. Look there! The Russians just dropped a barrel bomb! Nothing to see here, Nothing at all ...

Posted by b on September 5, 2016 at 16:45 UTC | Permalink

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That, I hope you’ll agree, is no way to get the other side of the story out to the general public.
Peter J A Wright.
Posted by: Peter J A Wright | Sep 7, 2016 5:51:12 AM | 87

Im not sure if you are familiar with the routine 'Assad must go' narrative in the western MSM, but the podcast refers to the other side of the story.

I m sorry for your confusion. My thoughts are with you, Mr Wright.

Posted by: MadMax2 | Sep 7 2016 23:01 utc | 101

Turkey’s actions could complicate situation in Syria: Russia

The ministry expressed worries about the incursion of Turkish soldiers and pro-Ankara Syria militants deeper into Syrian soil, saying, "This calls into question the sovereignty and territorial integrity of the Syrian Arab Republic.”

Such advances, which are being made without coordination with the Damascus authorities and without the approval of the United Nations Security Council, "could further complicate the military and political situation in Syria, which is dire as it is," the statement read.

It further called on the Ankara government to “refrain” from any steps that could destabilize Syria.

If there had been a 'deal' between the Turks and the Russians prior to the Turkish invasion (I doubt it) it looks as though the Turks have (predictably) welched on it now.

Similarly, if the Turks have decided to take it to Raqqa, the US will pretend to be on board, just as it pretended to give the original Turkish incursion air-cover.

Turkey is calling the shots. The Russians are opposing the Turkish occupation of Syria, the USA is approving Turkish death, devastation, destruction and deceit in Syria. And in Iraq and Iran ... if the Turks take that tack. The neo-cons won't look a gift horseman of the apocalypse in the mouth.

Posted by: jfl | Sep 7 2016 23:03 utc | 102

I think Putin is just tired. Rojava? West Turkmeneli? Whatever...

Posted by: PavewayIV | Sep 8 2016 1:05 utc | 103

Erdogan is the kind of guy who will just try one thing after another ... he'll keep pushing unless and until someone stops him. That someone won't be USrael/KSA/GCC. The USA seems to have found/created a much more muscular alternative to al-CIAduh.

Posted by: jfl | Sep 8 2016 1:22 utc | 104

@ grieved... i wonder if the outline and agreement articulated in your earlier post regarding turkey's boundary lines into syria has been up-ended or not at this point? looks to me like they are being up-ended... i wonder when and what the consequences are if i am reading this correctly? seems like erdogan is being pulled a few different ways by russia/usa... you can't serve 2 masters.. he might be trying, but it ain't gonna work...

@ paveway.. i doubt putin is tired... i think he plays for keeps and continues to forge a fluid and changing game plan here... funny map though.. i guess you found that inside erdogans crayon colouring book?

Posted by: james | Sep 8 2016 2:05 utc | 105

james@105 - The map is years old. Turkey's scheme to resettle Turkmen to northern Syria to displace Arabs/Kurds/Whomever has been around for a while. West Turkmeneli just doesn't roll off the tongue like Rojava, so I always forget what they were planning on naming it. That's basically the chunk of the Ottoman Empire that Sykes-Picot carved off for Syria. East Turkmeneli in Iraq is even more interesting - basically southwest Barzanistan plus Mosul, and all that oil.

I want to say these were both failed projects of Turkey from a decade or two ago, but I keep looking back at the maps an thinking, "This seems to be where Erdogan wants all this to end up." Something happens that makes it seem less likely, then things change again where they inch a little closer to being possible. Erdogan's actions regarding Assad and the Rojava Kurds just make more sense when viewed through Turkmeneli-colored glasses. He's probably still pissed about Britain and France taking the southern chunk of the Ottoman Empire away in WW I. I think he wants both pieces back and is just waiting for an excuse. He seems pretty eager to 'help out' in Raqqa and Mosul.

Posted by: PavewayIV | Sep 8 2016 5:48 utc | 106

And this just in from West Turkmeneli: al Bab conveniently evacuated by ISIS HQ in anticipation of Turkmen head-chopper FSA 'liberation'. Looks like Al Bab will be a cake-walk for the FSA like every other heroic battle they've waged against ISIS. I can almost hear the Turkish armor rolling down the Dhahab Valley now.

From ARA News:
Islamic State evacuating headquarters in Syria’s al-Bab

And - just like clockwork - CENTCOM's crack reconnaissance team of Operation Inherent Resolve will manage to completely miss a three-mile-long convoy of ISIS technicals, buses and trucks streaming across kilometers of open road from al Bab to their new home in al Khafsa next to Tishreen Reservoir/Lake Assad. I'm sure there will be several thrilling videos tomorrow of an MQ-9 taking out a broken-down excavator or blowing an unoccupied shack to smithereens somewhere else in Syria. That will show those head-chopper bastards (the ISIS ones, not the Turkish ones) that the U.S. means business!

Posted by: PavewayIV | Sep 8 2016 6:30 utc | 107

re 107

If ISIS has evacuated al-Bab,it seems more and more likely that the Turkish operation is organised in cooperation with ISIS (though the SDF officer quoted is not going to admit that). That's the way I think it is going. The Turkish operation is "Save ISIS, stop the Kurds". I personally don't go along with the Erdogan's conquest ambitions stuff. It reminds me a lot of the Turkish base implanted near Mosul last year. What function did it have other than to maintain contact with ISIS, in case the Syrian road were closed?

I wouldn't go along with the idea that Turkey has split with ISIS. They have to cope with the Gulfis - many of whom still support ISIS, even if publicly they don't any more.

Posted by: Laguerre | Sep 8 2016 8:38 utc | 108

maps are fun!

and i'd say Wesley Clark's little project is going better than al-Baghdadi's...

and what does it all mean?

and where is it all headed?

gosh, if i knew now what i knew then...

Posted by: john | Sep 8 2016 10:23 utc | 109

@109. Ahem.....Ralph Peters should get all the credit for the famous map....

Posted by: dh | Sep 8 2016 14:01 utc | 110

@106/107 paveway... thank you and thanks for sharing your insights!

i tend to agree with laguerre - turkey and isis are good buddies and this relationship isn't over between them.. same deal usa, which is why the usa never questions any of long as isis fulfills the usa's geo-political moves - isis is a okay in the usa's eyes..

Posted by: james | Sep 8 2016 15:35 utc | 111

Please, could somebody let me know what we have to understand by the words "The Russians just dropped a barrel bomb! Nothing to see here, Nothing at all"?
Thank you in advance for your help.
Best regards

Posted by: Laurent QUARANTE | Sep 8 2016 18:34 utc | 112

An academic specialist of the Ottomans told me today that there are plenty of Turks who support the Neo-Ottoman policy to retake Aleppo and Mosul. I'm sure it's true, but I'm unconvinced that that is Erdogan's policy. You have to imagine Arabs and Kurds, no Turks, accepting Turkish rule, knowing that the turks will bring in lots of their own people to turkicise the population. That's what happened in Hatay, and the local people know it. It might mean many years war to pacify the territory, even if the move succeeded.

I remain with my previous opinion - the aim is more limited: Save ISIS and stop the Kurds from joining with Afrin (not that the latter is possible, but I can imagine Erdogan being fearful of it). These are urgent needs. That is enough to explain what is happening.

Posted by: Laguerre | Sep 8 2016 18:45 utc | 113

P.S. I forgot to add that the US can accept the limited aims, but not a more extensive conquest. As we see in Manbij.

Posted by: Laguerre | Sep 8 2016 18:51 utc | 114

thanks laguerre

hard to know what the game plan is here by the players as i see it..

from yesterday...

We call on #Turkey to refrain from steps that could further destabilise #Syria

Posted by: james | Sep 8 2016 19:35 utc | 115

Laguerre@114 - I agree that nobody is going to be planting Turkmeneli flags in Aleppo, Laguerre. But you sound like you agree that Erdogan wants some kind of control over these territories. If he could find a Turkish puppet - a mob boss like Barzani - to run things, then Erdogan would be content.

I think the problem in Syria is that the U.S. went to far off the farm for Erdogan's liking. A U.S.-usurped PYD (as I contend) may have served U.S. purposes, but was far from what Erdogan had in mind. The ever-expanding Kurdish Manbij campaign and the U.S.-backed coup sent him over the edge.

ISIS was always meant as the temporary placeholder land thief for Turkish/U.S./GCC interests. ISIS was created and exists in order to be 'defeated' and the land subsequently occupied by Turkish/U.S./GCC liberators. A two-stage land-theft so it wouldn't look so obvious to the world. Same thing they did in Iraq.

Trouble is that Turkey has far more influence over ISIS than the U.S., and Turkey didn't like where the U.S. was taking Syria, or at least allowing it to go: a united Rojava. It was tolerated for a while (promises from the U.S., etc.) but the coup attempt changed everything. Erdogan decided to act independently from the U.S. and sent his Turkmen armies to replace his ISIS placeholders. ISIS headchoppers know who their masters are and what their ultimate role was. If the Turks showed up as expected and offered the ISIS fighters a new uniform, an al Nusra ID card and a continued paycheck, then the whole farce of liberation becomes all the easier. There will still be a few fanatic jihadis that never understood this plan and would fight the Turks as ISIS, but they're quite easily dispatched with a few well-placed 155mm artillery shells.

The Kurds will still get some remnants of their cantons, but no united Rojava.

Russia's tolerance for the Turkmen invasion seems puzzling at first, but Putin may have figured it was ultimately the best/fastest/easiest way to stabilize Syria. Ideally, Putin would have seen the SAA, Russian and Iraqi forces liberate ALL of Syria, but that's not going to happen any time soon. Putin lets Erdogan 'solve' the Kurdish issue with al Nusra/FSA/Turkmen while at the same time winding down the ISIS occupation scheme in an orderly fashion. The true test will be if the SAA and FSA Turkmen engage each other. If they don't, then this was the plan.

If there was such an agreement with Erdogan, than the war is essentially over. Erdogan gets control of northern Syria with his fake FSA (instead of losing it to the Kurds/U.S.) and agrees to stop attacking Syrian forces. Putin and Assad agree not to bomb the FSA/Turkmen-controlled regions, while still pounding the hard-core al Nusra and ISIS positions left. Putin gets a stable, somewhat-intact Syria and a counter-party he can actually negotiate with (Turkey, not the useless U.S.).

Turkey, Russia, Iran and Syria will have all cooperated to kick the U.S. to the curb and eliminate it's incessant meddling in Syria. They will have also defused the ISIS time-bomb that the U.S. schemed up to steal Syria's oil and water.

I'm not arguing for or against this plan other than that it explains to some degree the motivation of all the players: to get rid of the trouble-making U.S. and move on.

Posted by: PavewayIV | Sep 8 2016 19:38 utc | 116

"But you sound like you agree that Erdogan wants some kind of control over these territories."

That's not what I said. There are some Turks, maybe many, who want that, but it's unlikely to be a majority. It's a fantasy.

I don't think that the Turks have gone against the US idea of an independent Rojova, rather limited it to east of the Euphrates. The idea of linking Rojava with Afrin was always fantasmic, as the population in between is Sunni Arab. In 2003 the Kurds could dominate Arabs, today no.

Posted by: Laguerre | Sep 8 2016 20:47 utc | 117

Laguerre@117 - I was just being facetious with the Turkmeneli thing. I don't honestly expect some kind of movement to start among Syrian Turkmen for their own country. I'm speaking just to Erdogan's intent with regard to Syria - what he would be willing to do to control northern Syria.

He may have prevented a united Rojava, but he's still way too paranoid to accept an armed Kurdish presence along much of the rest of Syrian's north border with Turkey, IMHO. He now controls many ex-ISIS head-choppers alongside the FSA/Nusra Turkomen. If he sends them to ar Raqqa, that would mean he either partially surrounded Kobane from the south or cut it in half by going through Tel Abyad and Ain Issa. Like everyone else running around Syria, I'm imagining him using ISIS as an excuse to occupy a pretty substantial piece of northern Syria - way more than the 30km deep safe zone or whatever they're calling it. Of course the Kurds and Arabs will not be excited to see Turks occupying their land, but then they really don't have much power to prohibit that from happening.

Either the U.S. or Russia could keep Turkey from getting too ambitious in Syria, but we haven't heard much out of either of them. I suspect the U.S. has little or no influence left with Turkey, and Russia doesn't want to complain too much for the time being. It would be easier to deal with a Turkish occupation in northern Syria later then to deal with head-choppers running amok there today.

Posted by: PavewayIV | Sep 8 2016 23:05 utc | 118

With Turkey acting out on its own in Syria, have the neo-cons decided to let the Ukrainians go too? Worst that can happen is more death, devastation, destruction, and deceit, and they're always up for that.

Pentagon: US to improve Ukraine’s military capabilities

The US Defense Department said in a statement on Thursday that the Washington-Kiev partnership aims “to enhance the defense capacity of Ukraine’s forces, advance critical Ukrainian defense reforms, improve resource management processes and boost defense technology cooperation.”

This was then followed by a meeting between US Defense Secretary Ashton Carter and his Ukrainian counterpart Stepan Poltorak in London.Carter stated it is a “very, very important agreement.” Ukraine has been embroiled in a civil aggression against the Russian-speaking southeastern region known as Donbass.

I think the Turks are calling the shots in Syria now and the Syrians, Russians, Iranians, and the USA are all reacting after the fact. But consciously letting the much more desperate Ukrainians off the leash with the idea of 'wait and see' and then reacting to whatever they do seems a much more dangerous bit of match-play.

Meanwhile, Iran seems actively to be challenging the Saudi administration of the Haj ... what's up there? Or will someone explain that as part of the Syrian, Russian, Iranian deal with Turkey as well? Time for the Turks to turn their backs to the Saudis and re-align with the Iranians?

Or is it time for an attempted Turkish-Saudi pincer for Iran? While the Ukrainins do whatever comes naturally in Donbass?

Posted by: jfl | Sep 8 2016 23:48 utc | 119

@199 jfl.. not sure about turkey acting out on it's own... maybe...

i saw these 2 news feeds at rt and in response to your post :

"Putin discusses Syria with Erdogan

Russin President Vladimir Putin has discussed the situation in Syria with his Turkish counterpart, Recep Tayyip Erdogan in a telephone conversation, the Kremlin said in a statement late Thursday. The two leaders agreed to continue cooperation in various fields to promote reconciliation of the Syrian conflict. They also discussed further development of relations between Russia and Turkey."

"UN: 16 killed, 75 wounded in Donbass in month, 9,569 dead since April 2014

The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) said in a report on Thursday that 16 people were killed and 75 injured during August in Donbass, eastern Ukraine. In July, eight people were killed and 65 wounded. During August 2015, the numbers stood at 43 and 137 respectively. Since the beginning of the conflict in April 2014, 9,569 people have been killed and 22,212 wounded, according to the OCHA."

Posted by: james | Sep 9 2016 7:13 utc | 120

Turkey can absorb high casualties without alarming the Turkish public. thats BS. wait and be amazed by what Turks are capable of. MARK MY WORDS

Posted by: Turk | Sep 9 2016 11:57 utc | 121

- "Matryoshka dolls" ??? Sheer nonsense !!!
- The Kurds are being sacrificed for the purpose of saving the US-Turkish relationship.

Posted by: Willy2 | Sep 10 2016 16:16 utc | 122

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