Spotlight: Moscow exerts pressure on Ankara over Turkey-U.S. safe zone deal: experts

Source: Xinhua| 2019-08-21 01:52:41|Editor: Shi Yinglun
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ANKARA, Aug. 20 (Xinhua) -- A recent Russian-backed operation by the Syrian government forces in Idlib of Syria is directly relevant to the start of talks between the United States and Turkey to set up a safe zone in northeastern Syria, experts argued.

On Monday, a Turkish military convoy was attacked on its way to an observation point in Idlib, where Turkish Defense Ministry claimed that three civilians were killed.

A recent consensus between Ankara and Washington on a safe zone in the east of Euphrates could lead Russia to exert more pressure on Turkey on the issue of Idlib, said Serkan Demirtas, a columnist for Hurriyet Daily News.

It was the first time that an airstrike was carried out on Turkish convoy despite Ankara had informed Moscow about its deployment of soldiers to the observation point, Demirtas said, noting that Turkey insisted that Moscow was aware of the attack.

Monday's attack raises the question of whether or not Turkey and Russia would be able to carry on their cooperation on Idlib, he said, adding that tension between Ankara and Moscow has escalated due to Idlib and moves of the two countries will determine the future of the region.

Naim Baburoglu, another analyst from Aydin University, agreed that Russia must have given a green light to the attack on Turkish convoy, adding that the move was a message from Moscow to Ankara that Russia and the Syrian government cannot be excluded from the safe zone deal.

Russia is telling Turkey that Ankara should not set up a safe zone in coordination with Washington only without the involvement of Russia or Damascus, according to Baburoglu.

He recalled that Russian officials have said recently that any anti-terror operations by Turkey in the east of Euphrates should be carried out in cooperation with Damascus.

Last week, Russian Foreign Ministry emphasized in a statement that "all counter-terrorism activities to be undertaken in Syria have to receive the approval from Damascus ... Attempts to isolate Syria's northeast are a source of growing concern."

The attack came at a time when the Syrian army has captured several towns and many villages from the rebels in the southern part of Idlib.

Syria and Russia wanted to take control of M5 Hama-Aleppo highway, which has crucial strategic importance in logistics supplies, Baburoglu said.

Turkey's 9th and 10th observation points in the south of Idlib, which were established under an agreement between Turkey and Russia to ease tension in the region, are located in a significant area on these supply routes, Baburoglu noted.

As of Tuesday, Turkey's 9th observation post in Morek is surrounded by the forces of Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad.

Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu on Tuesday denied that Turkey intends to withdraw or relocate its soldiers in the area, adding that the observation posts will continue its mission and his country will take necessary additional security measures.

Asked about discussions with Russia, one of the sponsors of the cease-fire deal for Idlib, the Turkish minister said Ankara and Moscow are having dialogues on all levels, and officials from both sides, including the chiefs of general staff, had a phone conversation after the incident.

Turkey and Russia have built both economic and political partnership particularly on the issues of the purchase of S-400 missile defense systems and strategic Akkuyu nuclear power plant construction, Baburoglu said, adding the two countries also cooperate on the Astana process which seeks a political settlement of the Syrian conflict.

But interests of Ankara and Moscow conflicted when the issue comes to Idlib since Turkey backs the "moderate" opposition groups and rejects military assault by the Syrian government in fear of massive refugee influx to its borders, the expert said.

However, Russia supports Damascus for its military operation against the extremist militants in Idlib, the last stronghold of the rebels, he noted.

Turkey and Russia agreed last September to turn Idlib into a de-escalation zone that prohibited acts of aggression. The deal, however, has largely failed despite several attempts to revive it.

Baburoglu expected that the upcoming trilateral meeting of leaders of Turkey, Russia and Iran will address these issues. The three partners in the Astana process are scheduled to meet on Sept. 11 in Turkey to work toward a political settlement of the Syrian war.

On Aug. 7, Turkey and the United States agreed to jointly set up a safe zone in northern Syria, but the two sides still differ on several issues.