Pivot Turkey towards Iran and Russia
The Turkish head of state Recep Tayyip Erdoğan spoke of a "historic agreement" after the meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Sochi. This was primarily aimed at the domestic audience, to whom he wants to convey that he has achieved everything. The ten-point declaration of intent does not read like a major agreement; it regulates a ceasefire and joint patrols in northern Syria. And yet it is likely that October 22, 2019 will be considered the day in history when the main phase of the Syrian civil war came to an end and the post-war order on the Levant was mapped out.
By extending the ceasefire, Erdoğan de facto recognized President Bashar al-Assad's rule over Syria, which he tried for years to overthrow by almost any means. He accepts that the Syrian army will take control of the border with Turkey. At the same time, Erdoğan has committed himself to the territorial integrity of Syria. The conquests of the Turkish troops in Syria will therefore go back to Assad in the course of a political settlement of the conflict mediated by Russia, not only the areas between Tel Abjad and Ras al-Ain, into which Turkish troops have marched in the past few days, but also Afrin and al-Bab further west.
Then there remains Idlib, the last stronghold of the rebels, militarily largely controlled by radical Islamists and jihadists. Assad's visit to the front at the same time as the Sochi summit gives an idea of how the regime intends to solve this problem, despite the fact that three million civilians live in the area, half of whom have already been displaced from other parts of Syria.
Erdoğan did not achieve much more than he had already discussed with the Americans. There is no longer any talk of Turkey occupying a strip 440 kilometers wide and 30 kilometers deep on Syrian soil. He has received the indirect acknowledgment of Putin and the Syrian regime that the Kurdish YPG militias are classified as a terrorist organization and that Turkey will be allowed to proceed against this offshoot of the PKK 15 kilometers on Syrian territory in the future.
The real winners of Sochi, however, are Russia and, as a result, the Assad regime. President Putin is finishing what he started with the military intervention in autumn 2015 and politically flanked by the Astana Process with Turkey and Iran: he has re-established Russia as an inevitable power factor in the Middle East. And he showed the Sunni Gulf States, the USA and the Europeans the limits of their power.
Putin's vassal state on the Mediterranean
Assad will have to make minor political concessions as part of the constitutional reform sought by Russia. From Moscow's point of view, it is not irreplaceable either. But he will stay in power for the foreseeable future. Putin has thus created a vassal state on the Mediterranean, in which Iran can at best still act as a competitor.
This fundamental reorganization of the balance of power in the Middle East was made possible by an erratically acting, ignorant and overwhelmed US President. The supposedly greatest dealmaker of all time has thrown his cards on the table without securing the slightest thing in return. The presence of US troops in Syria, together with the fact that the Kurds controlled almost a third of the country and its oil fields, was America's bargaining chip: To have a say in the post-war order in Syria, to ensure the Kurds extensive autonomy to the Iranian Limit influence on the Levant. Trump gave all of this away in a phone call with Erdoğan.
Everyone in the Middle East has now understood how little reliance on the United States is under Trump. The tsar-like reception for Putin in Riyadh and Abu Dhabi speaks volumes, and Israel, America's closest ally in the region, has long been two-pronged, as has Egypt. In addition to Russia, China is also trying to push into the vacuum. The Europeans, on the other hand, for whom the Middle East and North Africa are in close proximity, stand by, like the knight of the sad figure, powerless, idle and idle.
Federal Defense Minister Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer wanted to set a counterpoint with her push for a security zone in northern Syria. That was a complete failure. Rather, it reveals the poor state of German and European foreign and security policy, despite all the talk of strategic autonomy. Nobody needs to be surprised if Europe and especially Germany are hardly taken seriously in a region that is extremely important to them.
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