The agreement signed this week between Russia and Turkey for a new security plan in northeast Syria was certainly historic and a much welcome potential path towards stability and peace.
However, the way forward could be frustrated by continuing foreign meddling in Syria’s sovereignty. This week it was also reported that US forces, including Abrams tanks, are to deploy in eastern Syria to “secure the oil fields” in the country’s resource-rich region.
In a separate development, it is being proposed by Germany and some other European powers to dispatch a NATO force of up to 40,000 troops to ostensibly augment the safe zone in northeast Syria formulated by Russia and Turkey. It is not clear if the German proposal will actually materialize with NATO boots on the ground.
But it is evident that the Russia-Turkey deal signed on October 22, known as the Sochi Memorandum, may be impeded by the undue interference in Syria’s territorial affairs by self-appointed external powers.
First though it should be acknowledged that the accord signed this week by Russian President Vladimir Putin and his Turkish counterpart Recep Tayyip Erdogan is a consummate breakthrough. It has to be said too that the deal was the result of deft diplomacy by the Russian side.
It underscores the pivotal role Russia has assumed in bringing the war in Syria to an appropriate end.
Crucially, the Sochi Memorandum buttresses the shaky ceasefire which the United States had created on October 17. There was a grave danger that that truce was about to collapse from a renewed Turkish incursion into Syria and a grave escalation of violence against Kurdish militia, whom Turkey designates a terrorist threat to its southeastern territory.
The Moscow-led initiative this week proposes a joint Russian-Turkish security arrangement to police the border with Syria. Turkey is obligated to not make any further incursion into Syria, while the Kurds are to relocate southwards beyond a 30-km zone from the Syrian-Turkish border. That satisfies Ankara’s security concerns. Over the next week, the Sochi Memorandum requires Kurdish militia to vacate the designated safe zone.
Significantly, Syrian state forces are to take back control of most of the border region from the Euphrates River to the frontier with Iraq. Eventually, under the Astana trilateral agreement between Russia, Turkey and Iran, all Turkish forces are to relinquish current positions in Syria so that the Syrian government can resume its full control over all of its sovereign territory.
As Russia emphasized this week again, all military forces which are illegally present in Syria – American and NATO, including Turkey – must exit the territory. Only Russian and Iranian forces which were legally requested by the Damascus government have a proper mandate to be in Syria.
President Bashar al-Assad has given his approval for the Sochi Memorandum.
The importance of the Russia-Turkey deal is that, on the near term, it stops the bloodshed in northeast Syria which was threatening to explode. But going forward, the accord restores Syria’s national authority over its borders and territory. It also underpins the political process for drawing up a new constitution for Syria, led by the Syrian people, which hopefully will allow the country to recover from nearly nine years of war. In that process, the Syrian Kurds will have to negotiate with the government in Damascus about a future regional administration that caters for their ethnic interests.
Russia’s diplomatic efforts have thus gone a long way to bring potential bring peace and stability to Syria despite the morass of conflict and conflicting parties. That chaos has largely been created by foreign interference from Washington and its NATO allies who have covertly infiltrated Syria with proxy groups like Islamic State and Kurdish militia in order to balkanize the country and overthrow the government of President Assad. Over 600,000 Syrians have been killed and millions turned into refugees from this foreign-sponsored regime-change war. War damages to the country – once a prosperous and developed nation – are estimated, at the very least, to be valued at over $200 billion.
Despicably, though, Syria is not out of the woods yet. The Sochi Memorandum is a huge step forwards to a better future. But the criminal foreign intrigues are not over.
The Americans are not withdrawing troops from Syria, as President Trump recently boasted about. They are being redeployed from the northeast to the eastern areas where the oil fields are relocated. What mandate Washington invokes for this expropriation of Syria’s natural resources is simply its own imperialist arrogance. The latest reports are that American tank crews are to be newly deployed in eastern Syria. The troop numbers involved will far exceed the 1,000 or so that Trump claimed last week were “coming home”.
There is also the question of Islamist terror groups being reactivated and redeployed. During the recent turmoil in northeast Syria, hundreds of jihadists were reportedly airlifted by US military helicopters to safe havens. Are they to be used by their Pentagon handlers for a future rebooted covert war on Syria?
Then there is the harebrained German proposal for European NATO troops to be deployed on a major scale in northeast Syria – purportedly to support the Russia-Turkey security arrangement.
When will such madness stop? Syria has been plunged into a nine-year nightmare of bloodletting and horror because of Western imperialist interference. And now these powers want to extend their bloody interference with more military “intervention”.
Only Russia, along with Iran and Lebanon’s Hezbollah – and most importantly the fortitude of the Syrian people – have managed to salvage the catastrophe of the war imposed by the US, NATO and regional partners, including Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Israel.
The Sochi Memorandum highlights the positive role played by Russia. It can succeed to consolidate peace for Syria. But it will also require the ending of criminal interference in Syria by the US and its NATO accomplices.