With each passing hour, diplomats and journalists in the conference room of the summer residence of Russian President Vladimir Putin in Sochi are getting more and more restless. At 12.30 pm, Putin received his Turkish counterpart Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Tuesday to discuss the Syria war with him. The conversation should take at most two and a half hours, but in the evening, the two heads of state are still behind closed doors.
The initial situation is complicated: Following the surprise withdrawal of American troops, Turkey invaded eastern Syria on 9 October to fight the Kurdish militia YPG. Erdogan wanted to create a buffer zone that stifled itself from the Euphrates River to the Iraqi border, nearly 500 kilometers long and 35 kilometers deep. The US has given him, after some back and forth, for a largely free hand.
Alexei Druzhinin / Sputnik / Kremlin / REUTERS
Erdogan (left), Putin (right) during their conversation in Sochi
But Erdogan knows that in order to put his plans into action, he needs Russia's approval. Because in order to permanently guard a possible buffer zone, he must send Turkish soldiers and Syrian rebels to Syria, and that does not go without approval from Moscow.
On the one hand, Putin is keen for his protégé, dictator Bashar al-Assad, to completely recapture Syria. On the other hand, he does not want to bog Erdogan, because he needs him to regulate the post-war order in Syria - and also to split the NATO.
The question before the meeting in Sochi was therefore whether Putin is willing to leave Erdogan to Syrian territory - and if so, how much.
After more than six and a half hours of negotiations, the answer is clear on Tuesday evening: yes, Erdogan gets a buffer zone, but it is much smaller than originally intended by him.
Erdogan recognizes Assad as ruler
The so-called Memorandum of Understanding between Moscow and Ankara comprises a total of ten points, in some places it remains vague, but the direction is clear - and the consequences are far-reaching.
- Turkey recognizes Syria's "political unity and territorial sovereignty". In other words, Erdogan, who in the first years of the war made every effort to overthrow Assad, accepts the despot as the legitimate ruler of Syria.
- In return, the Russian government de facto endorses the Turkish military operation by referring to the so-called Adana Agreement between Turkey and Syria, which allows the Turkish military to carry out anti-terrorist operations in the Turkish-Syrian border area.
- Turkey extends the ceasefire by 150 hours. Last week, Ankara and Washington had agreed to a five-day ceasefire for northern Syria, which expired on Tuesday night.
- As demanded by Erdogan, there is a buffer zone between Iraq in the north and the Euphrates in the south, about 500 kilometers long, 30 kilometers deep, from which the YPG completely withdraws.
- Part of this buffer zone, the stretch of land between the towns of Tal Abyad and Ras al-Ain, is guarded by Turkey. It is the area that has conquered the Turkish military in the "Peace Spring" military operation in recent days.
- To the east and west of Putin and Assad take control, Turkish troops may patroll in the immediate vicinity of the border (10 km depth) mit. The talks with the Kurds should lead Assad directly to the will of Putin in the future. The city of Kamischli is subordinated to the rule of the Syrian despot.
Russia is the new regulatory power
It's a complicated deal that knows a whole winner, two half, and one loser.
The winner is Russian President Vladimir Putin. His vassal Assad now has power back almost across the country. At the same time, Putin succeeded in integrating Erdogan into his post-war plans. The USA no longer plays a role in the region. Russia is now the new regulatory power.
But even Assad and Erdogan should be largely satisfied with the agreement. After Erdogan's military offensive, only a fraction of the targeted territory actually goes to Turkey, the rest to Putin and Assad. But the Turkish president has managed to ban the YPG from the border area. Assad, on the other hand, gets back much of northeastern Syria, but has to live with a Turkish presence.
Big loser is the YPG. After the US withdrawal, the Kurdish militia called Assad to help. But Putin has also dropped the YPG in favor of Turkey.