In Russia, Turkey / Türkiye

Putin ‘cautiously optimistic’ about Syria political settlement with help of US & others

News report with video on media briefing by Presidents Erdogan and Putin in Moscow,, March 10, 2017

Presidents Erdogan and Putin meet in Moscow on March 10, 2017

Russia is cautiously optimistic about consolidating the Syrian ceasefire and moving towards a political settlement with the assistance of other players, including the U.S., President Vladimir Putin said at a joint briefing with his Turkish counterpart, Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

“As for the prospects [of the settlement in Syria], we must say frankly that the situation remains complicated. There are a lot of uncertainties; a lot of contradictions in the region and in the country itself – in Syria,” Putin said after the talks with Erdogan in the Russian capital on Friday. “Therefore, I want to express cautious optimism that by joining efforts with other solid players, including the US, we will be able to effectively contribute to the strengthening of the ceasefire regime and, on its basis, to move towards a full-fledged political settlement,” he said.

The Russian leader stressed that peace in Syria and the whole region can only be achieved if Syrian territorial integrity is restored. “For peace and calm to remain in the region and the rebuilding of Syria to begin, the principle of the territorial integrity of states must be respected, and in this sense the restoration of the territorial integrity of Syria is – in our view – a paramount condition for a full-fledged settlement in this country,” he said.

Erdogan echoed Putin’s words by saying that “both in Syria and in Iraq, the territorial integrity of the countries is our main goal. We can’t tolerate the division of these territories.”

The Russian leader has praised the level of cooperation between the Russian and Turkish militaries and intelligence agencies in Syria. “Mainly due to the active role of Russia and Turkey, it became possible not only to achieve cessation of hostilities between the government forces and the opposition, but to start direct, concrete negotiations between the warring sides in Astana,” he said. “Because of the coordinated actions by Russia, Turkey and Iran, the ceasefire in Syria is generally being observed. The level of violence has decreased,” Putin added.

Erdogan also called the meetings in Astana, Kazakhstan where the Syrian ceasefire was agreed earlier this year “an additional factor, making the process launched in Geneva more effective.”

The Turkish president said that both Ankara and Moscow “want to cooperate with the (US-led) coalition on liberating the city of Manbij” in northern Syria on the River Euphrates.

Back to mutual trust

It was the second meeting between Putin and Erdogan since Turkey’s downing of a Russian bomber jet in Syrian border in November 2015 delivered a huge blow to bilateral relations between Moscow and Ankara.

The Turkish leader expressed belief that the Friday’s talks completed the process of normalization of relations between the two countries. “We managed to overcome provocative actions and all problems. Much work was done to normalize our relations. We think that there is a noticeable shift in our relations,” he said.

“Even if we do not agree on all issues, we keep all channels of communications open, as a result of the establishment of mutual trust we shall continue strengthening cooperation,” Erdogan said. Now that the relations have normalized, it’s time for “mutual trust” to prevail, according to the Turkish leader.

Putin, on his part, said that Russia is considering Turkey a “key partner,” being ready to further develop political dialogue with Ankara. “We can say with certainty that our countries have returned to the path of authentic multi-faceted partnership,” he said.

The Russian president also announced that Moscow’s ban on hiring Turkish workers in the Russian construction industry, imposed among other restriction after the downing of the Russian jet, will be lifted in near future.

‘If Erdogan starts confronting Moscow, it will bury Turkey’

News report by the editors, Sputnik News, March 10, 2017

Ahead of the upcoming meeting between Presidents Putin and Erdogan, which is set to start later on Friday, March 10  in Moscow, political analysts from both countries have indicated certain hidden hazards which might hinder the negotiations. Russian and Turkish leaders are set to meet in Moscow on March 10 during the Turkish president’s visit to Russia to attend the 6th meeting of the High-Level Russia-Turkey Cooperation Council.

Earlier on Thursday, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said that President Putin, among other matters, plans to discuss with Erdogan the conflict settlement process in Syria and the assassination last year of Russian Ambassador to Turkey Andrei Karlov.

Ahead of the scheduled negotiations, political analysts from both countries have indicated certain hidden hazards which might hinder the negotiations.

Araik Stepanyan, executive secretary of the Presidium of the Academy of Geopolitical Problems has pointed at the noticeable changes which have happened at the international arena since the last meeting of the two leaders.

The Syrian government army with the aerial support of the Russian Aerospace Forces has been besetting the Islamists on all fronts. Trump has been shaping a new foreign policy tideway bypassing Turkey. EU officials have been openly criticizing Erdogan while political tensions have only intensified in Turkey. Thus Erdogan has accumulated a whole set of problems and all the above will have an inevitable impact on the negotiations in Moscow.

“Turkey is in quite a difficult situation right now: its foreign policy has turned out a real failure – the relationships with the EU and the US have greatly deteriorated. The relationships with its neighbors, Greece and Armenia are nothing better. The internal conflicts are arising one after another,” Stepanyan told RT channel. Thus, he said, Turkey will be forced to make concessions to Russia. If Erdogan starts confronting Moscow it will “bury Turkey”, he added.

His view is echoed by Yuri Mavashev, the head of the political department at the Center for Modern Turkish Studies, who said that the upcoming April referendum in Turkey on switching to a presidential system of governance is of extreme significance to Erdogan. He will be demonstrating to his voters that in Moscow he is defending the national interests of Turkey and is holding an equal dialogue. But this requires Moscow to play up to the Turkish president.

With regards to the Syrian conflict which is expected to top the agenda of the talks, experts noted that while it is the Syrian peace process which is of primary importance to Russia, it is the Kurdish issue which remains a priority to Erdogan. The two leaders, Mavashev noted, are set to find a common ground on a number of issues: the Kurds, control over the city of Manbij and Turkish – Iranian cooperation. “Erdogan will be pushing for Russia’s support in the Kurdish issue – prevention of the setup of the Kurdish enclave in the north-eastern Syria,” Araik Stepanyan said.

The Turks are concerned over the setup of the Kurdish autonomy which will have a great impact on the south-east of Turkey and might lead to a setup of an independent state on the territory of Turkey.

This view is echoed by Ilnur Cevik, an adviser to the Turkish president, who told Sputnik that the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) remains a real problem to Turkey. “We are fighting not against the Kurdish people but with the terrorist movement within the Kurdish population. We do have discrepancies with Russia over the Kurdish issue but they do not impede the dialogue with Moscow. Our leaders and our diplomats are examining it in detail,” he told Sputnik.

Meanwhile, Alexey Arbatov, the head of the Center for International Security at the Institute of Primakov National Research Institute of World Economy and International Relations pointed to Sputnik at another hidden hazard in the upcoming talks. “It is not easy to talk about the expectations from the upcoming negotiations but we might suggest that Bashar Assad might also become a key topic of the talks. The attitude towards the Syrian president is the major factor which splits Turkey and Russia,” he told Sputnik.

And it is one of the key factors which hampers the peace talks in Astana, he added. While Turkey keeps treating the Syrian leader as an adversary, it has not yet defined its position towards the future peace process, and namely will Assad have any chance to remain the head of the Syrian state or be part of the coalition government, Arbatov told Sputnik.

Turkish political analyst and expert in international relations and international law Mesut Hakki Çasin has pointed out to Sputnik Turkiye that the recent meeting of Russian, Turkish and U.S. military chiefs in Antalya comes as a very important signal before the negotiations in Moscow. On March 7, Turkey’s military chief of staff, General Hulusi Akar, was hosted a meeting with the heads of the U.S. and Russian armed forces in the southern Turkish province of Antalya. The meeting was attended by Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Joseph Dunford Jr., Chief of the General Staff of the Armed Forces of Russia Valery Gerasimov and Turkey’s military chief of staff General Hulusi Akar.

“In the times of the Cold War, the U.S. and the USSR were the leaders of the two blocks – NATO and the Warsaw Pact. Turkey was then an important fortress on the south flank of NATO,” Çasin told Sputnik. From the historic point of view, the recent meeting of the top brass of the three countries signals that they met not as rivals but as partners, he noted. He further suggested that Russia might have played a role of an intermediary between Turkey and the U.S.

“There is an opinion that the three military chiefs met in Antalya to prevent any possible clash on the ground in Manbij,” he told Sputnik. He further called it an important political and military example of cooperation in the history of NATO and Turkey.

He also suggested that the military operation to liberate the Syrian city of Raqqa might have been also discussed in Antalya. “The meeting took place against very important developments on the Syrian territory. Successful advance of the Syrian government forces towards Manbij came as a big surprise. There is an opinion that Russia, while acting as an intermediary in transferring parts of Manbij territories to the Syrian government forces, has prevented clashes between Turkey and the US,” he told Sputnik.

And here comes another question, he said, whether there was any agreement between Russia and the U.S. A further announcement of the US military command that they “have been informed by the Russian side” suggests that there has been a certain agreement between Russia and the U.S.

The political analyst further elaborated that the top military might have discussed the military operation in Raqqa. Among possible scenarios there could be a joint operation of the Turkish Armed Forces, U.S. special forces and Peshmerga forces, he suggested. There is also an opportunity that Turkey will provide its Incirlik air base and that Russian Aerospace Forces will take part in the operation.

“How real these suggestion are still remains to be seen. However one thing is absolutely clear: the tripartite mechanism suggested by President Putin is of vital importance. And the meeting of the three key players, Russia, Turkey and the US is an important step for the peace settlement in Syria,” he told Sputnik.

Araik Stepanyan however pointed out at yet another hidden hazard. “One of the main issues to Russia is how sincere Erdogan is with regards to Russia. There are concerns that if the Americans go gently with Turkey, the Turks will then divert their policies towards the West,” he finally said.

Read also:
Four issues to define the agenda of Putin-Erdogan talks in Moscow, Sputnik News, March 9, 2017


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