Turkey, Russia Agree on Syrian Opposition, Gov’t Troops Conflict Prevention

Turkey and Russia agreed on the prevention of clashes between Turkey-backed opposition Free Syrian Army (FSA) and government forces, Turkish Foreign Minsiter Mevlut Cavusoglu said.

“We have agreed with Russia on the prevention of clashes between the [FSA] and the Syrian government forces in order to intensify the fight against [the outlawed in Russia Islamic State jihadist group] IS,” Cavusoglu told reporters in Ankara.

Cavusoglu denied the latest media reports of an alleged agreement with Russian mediation on Kurdish militia handing over territories to the east of Al Bab to the Syrian government forces.

“There are all sorts of news and speculation. This is all untrue. We are now seeing that the Syrian government forces are moving to the east,” he stressed.

According to the YPG source, from this point on Turkey will be busy — not with the Kurds, but dealing with the issues of staying in Syria. The source said:

* “We believe Russia and Turkey agreed that al-Bab will be handed over to TSK in return for Aleppo,” a city the Syrian regime now controls after driving IS out last year. “Russia also will now say Turkey’s business in Syria is finished.”

* “Turkey may try to enter Manbij, not with its own troops, but using other armed groups. We are ready for that.”

* “American commanders who met us at Kobani gave strong signals that they will go to Raqqa with the SDF. What they want from us is to keep quiet until Trump decides what to do.”

* “US commitments for Manbij are still valid. We don’t think the United States will give the green light to an attack against Manbij. Also, the United States set up a base in Manbij to train forces that will join the Raqqa offensive. If they change their attitude now, that will be the end of US-Kurdish cooperation. At this point, Americans cannot take that risk.”

After Operation Euphrates Shield liberated Jarablus from IS and the TSK turned toward Manbij, there were clashes between the Turkish side and the SDF, but the United States intervened to declare Sacur River as a line of separation between the two sides while the US flag was flown in the area for a while. When the Turkish side fired occasional rounds into Tell Abyad, US flags were hoisted above the YPG posts. These flags were signals that the United States would not allow an operation in the areas where it was working with the Kurds.

A critical signal about Manbij came on Feb. 24. US Central Command chief Gen. Joseph Votel and commander of the US forces in Iraq and Syria Lt. Gen. Stephen Townsend visited the training base at Kobani. The YPG official said the United States had also set up a training base at Manbij and assigned 60 US personnel there.

In addition to four US bases in Rojava — which is now known as the Democratic Federal System of Northern Syria — the CIA runs a camp at Derik.

Another question now is, if the United States were to back out of Manbij as an incentive to get Turkey to join the operation against IS in Raqqa, would the Kurds then cooperate with the Syrian army?

“At the moment we are working with the Americans,” the YPG official said. “There can be no partnership with the Syrian army as long as the situation doesn’t change.”

But the same YPG official did not deny that the Syrian army, with its actions south of al-Bab, facilitated the Kurds’ task.

“Turkey carried out that operation to prevent a Kurdish corridor between Kobani and Afrin, but with the Syrian army’s advance to the [Kurdish] SDF lines, the situation has changed. The corridor is now a 50% reality, not from the north, but from south of al-Bab. At least civilians and traders will be able to move along it and the distance between Kobani and Afrin will be down to two hours,” he added.

Turkey sought a partnership with the United States after first agreeing to align with the Russia-Iran axis during talks in Astana, Kazakhstan. But now it is Russia that will open the way for, or block, Turkey’s move in the field. That hard reality makes the Moscow meeting Erdogan has scheduled for March 9-10 with Putin critical.