Proposed Russian control of Syria border unlikely to appeal to Turkey

Proposed Russian control of Syria border unlikely to appeal to Turkey
Reviving the 1998 'Adana solution' is unlikely to go down well with a Turkish administration fearful of Kurdish militants on its southern border.
5 min read
25 January, 2019
Ankara has been gearing up for a new intervention in Syria [Getty]

A Russian plan to revive a 1998 agreement to provide security on Syria's northern border with Turkey is unlikely to be accepted by Ankara, analysts have told The New Arab.

The deal, known as the Adana Agreement, formed the basis of relations between Ankara and Damascus two decades ago, following threats by Turkey to take action over the border in Syria against Kurdish militants.

An emergency meeting between Russian President Vladimir Putin and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in Moscow on Wednesday was an attempt to resolve the question of what to do after a US military withdrawal from Syria.

Putin - keen to prevent more Turkish troops from entering Syria - attempted to placate Ankara's fears about the presence of Kurdish People's Protection Units (YPG) in the area, by indirectly pledging tightened security on the border by regime forces.

The 1998 Astana Agreement forced Syria to clamp down on Kurdish militancy, with Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) camps - which Ankara links to the YPG - forced to close and the group's leader, Abdullah Ocalan, forced out of the country as the deal was signed.

Such a scenario has manifested again with Turkey gearing up for more military action in northern Syria, following a pledge by US President Donald Trump to withdraw American forces.

"The treaty between Syria and Turkey of the year 1998 is still valid. And it deals, in particular, with the fight against terrorism. I think that this is the base that closes many issues in terms of ensuring Turkey's security on its southern borders. Today we have been discussing this issue quite thoroughly, fully and actively," Putin said after the meeting with Erdogan.

Although Erdogan did not comment directly on the "Adana option", his Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu has interpreted this as a green light to move its forces into Syria.

"We think he referred to this [protocol] implying that Turkey can intervene in [Syria]. And this is positive for us," he told Turkish media on Thursday.

This likely refers to Article 1 in the Adana Agreement which states: "Syria, on the basis of the principle of reciprocity, will not permit any activity that emanates from its territory aimed at jeopardising the security and stability of Turkey."

It also promises to close PKK camps in Syria, something that Ankara believes has not been fulfilled, given its tying the YPG with the Turkish-Kurdish militant group.

The terms of the Adana Agreement could be used by Turkey to move its forces into Syria, arguing that the presence of Kurdish militants on its border has also led to a fresh outbreak of violence by the PKK.

Ankara has insisted that the Syrian regime allowed this situation to come about by withdrawing its forces from northern Syria when it concentrated troops in major cities, fighting protesters calling for democratic reforms, and battling armed opposition groups as the brutal crackdown on dissent descended into civil war.

The power vacuum has allowed the Kurdish militias to take control of security in much of the country's north-east and build up the powerful YPG militia force, which, backed by the US military, has been key to defeating IS in Syria.

Putin has been consistent in wanting the Syrian regime to take control of northern Syria, having already moved some troops into Manbij, and pacify the YPG.

Such a scenario would be unacceptable to Ankara, analysts have said, given the frosty relations between the Syrian regime and Turkey.

"Ankara will not trust the Assad regime on its border, especially that [Assad] violated the Adana agreement before by using the PYD (Democratic Union Party, the political wing of the YPG) against Turkey," said Ali al-Bakeer, an Ankara-based political analyst and researcher.

"If there are no concrete guarantees from international players such as Russia, I don't think this will satisfy Turkey because Assad might change his mind whenever the circumstances change," he added.

Erdogan has said in the past that Turkey has "no business in Manbij if the YPG terrorists leave", while Assad wants his forces to "retake every inch" of Syria.

But Bakeer also argued that the Syrian regime would be unlikely to take military action against the YPG, which is heavily armed and battle-hardened, having fought numerous campaigns against IS - and still with some powerful allies in Washington.

"Such an agreement would require the Assad regime to fight the YPG and I don't think the regime forces are in a position to do so, not to mention the US might not accept such an outcome," Bakeer added.

There are at least three million Syrian refugees living in Turkey, who would not feel safe returning back to regime-controlled areas.

"Even if we assumed Turkey agreed on reviving such an agreement, [Adana] would not be enough from Ankara's perspective, taking into consideration that Turkey wants refugees to go back to safe areas in northern Syrian and no refugees will go back to an area controlled by the Assad regime given the current circumstances," said Bakeer.

Reports of Syrians being arrested, tortured and killed after returning to Assad-controlled areas have had a chilling effect and keep millions of refugees in Turkey until a possible "safe zone" is established by Ankara in northern Syria.