By Theodore Shoebat
Russia and Turkey are striking a deal over the situation in Syria. President Erdogan of Turkey traveled to the Russian town of Sochi, which lies right on the Black Sea, to have talks with Putin. Part of the deal is that there will be a “safe zone” that would be absent of any Kurdish-led fighters.
The deal that was agreed to by Russia and Turkey is centered upon the purging of Kurdish fighters in northern Syria. Within this new deal, Turkish and Russian troops will patrol side by side the region now under Turkish military occupation. The two forces will “facilitate the removal of YPG elements and their weapons,” according to the memorandum. The Kurdish YPG fighters will then have to withdraw about 20 miles from the Turkish-declared security zone in Northern Syria. This retreat is anticipated to last for roughly six days and then Russian and Turkish troops will patrol that particular zone. The deal also will make Kurdish fighters withdraw from Manbij and Tal Rifat, which are outside the immediate conflict area, as we read in a report from NPR.
But these very Kurdish fighters that are to the ire of the Turks are currently allied to Bashar al-Assad who recently pledged that he would do what is necessary to remove Turkish military presence. Vladimir Sotnikov, a senior research associate at the Russian Academy of Sciences, has said that one of Russia’s objectives in the deal is to actually protect the Assad allied Kurds from the Turkish offensive. “The expected outcome of the Erdogan-Putin meeting is an oral agreement to limit the Turkish offensive against the Kurds in Syria,” he said. Another goal of the deal, according to Sotnikov, is to protect Syrian soldiers from Turkish troops (who are way more efficient in fighting). In the words of Sotnikov: “They also want to prevent direct clashes between the Syrian government troops and Turkish forces.”
Wadih el-Hayek, a Middle East correspondent for Russian opposition paper Novaya Gazeta, believes that one of the reasons why Russia wants to broker this deal is to protect Russia’s national security from the many Chechen fighters who travelled to Syria to back ISIS. El-Hayek affirmed that Moscow’s “priority is to ensure the security of its soldiers on the ground from clashing with Chechen armed rebel fighters”. “If these fighters make it back to Russia they’ll have military experience and the potential to create violent instability,” he said, adding: “Russia is willing to ignore its alliance with Syria and Turkey’s cooperation with opposition groups in order to work with Ankara to neutralise these fighters.”
But there appears to be a deeper geopolitical objective involved here: control over the Black Sea. Turkey currently has a position in the Black Sea that is superior to the current state of the Russian navy in that very maritime region. According to a 2018 report entitled, Turkey and Black Sea Security, published by SIPRI:
After the collapse of the Soviet Union, Turkey rapidly gained naval superiority in the Black Sea. By 2013 the Turkish fleet (counting all ships, not only those based in the Black Sea) was 4.7 times larger than the combined fleets of Russia and Ukraine in the Black Sea. While Russia’s Black Sea Fleet has been reinforced since then, so has the Turkish fleet. Thus although the balance (at least when measured in equipment) has shifted somewhat towards Russia, the Turkish fleet remains superior in strength to the Black Sea Fleet and, based on the known Russian and Turkish naval acquisition plans, it will remain so
Russia has been in control of the the Sea of Azov since its takeover of Crimea in 2014, and at the same time Turkey has superior position over the Black Sea, especially over the Bosphorus and Dardanelles. Meanwhile, Turkey’s geographic location puts it right in the middle of Russia’s areas of interest. Turkey borders right with Georgia and Armenia, both areas of intense interest for Russia, since the Russians invaded Georgia in 2008 and Armenia is a strategic ally to Moscow. Turkey also borders with Iran, a major ally to Russia. But a huge factor in the geopolitical quagmire with these countries is the Black Sea. Russia has a fixation on having access through the Dardanelles, as we learn from former high-ranking officer of the Syrian Arab Army, Major General Mohammad Abbas. In an interview done in early October of 2019, Abbas observed:
“The United States seeks to achieve its strategic goals of making Russia a landlocked country and not allowing it to cross the Black Sea, the Dardanelles and the Bosphorus, and to prevent it from warm water”