Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani, left, Russia’s President Vladimir Putin, right, and Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan lock hands during a group photo in Ankara, Turkey, Wednesday, April 4, 2018. The leaders of Russia, Iran and Turkey are meeting in the Turkish capital for talks on Syria’s future. The leaders are expected to reaffirm their commitment to Syria’s territorial integrity and the continuation of local cease-fires when they meet Wednesday. (Tolga Bozoglu/Pool Photo via AP)

 

As we are waiting for the other shoe to drop in Syria, there has been a falling out of thieves in that country.

Back in late January, Turkey actually invaded Syria. Their target was neither the regime nor ISIS but the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) that Turkey was concerned was getting too cozy with the Kurdish Worker’s Party (PKK), a group Turkey classifies as a terrorist organization.

By March 1, Turkey was able to announce the seizure of the city of Afrin and the end to their adventure. And on April 4, Presidents Hassan Rouhani of Iran, Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey and Vladimir Putin of Russia held a summit meeting which looked to foreshadow a new strategic alliance in the region.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan renewed vows to drive out Syrian Kurdish militants across Turkey’s borders after talks with Russian President Vladimir Putin and Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani in Ankara today.

Speaking at a joint press conference, Erdogan said, “Turkey will not stop until all regions under PYD/PKK control, including Manbij, are secured. … We will never allow either Syria or our region to be attacked by a few terrorist groups.” The PYD is the acronym for the Democratic Union Party, the dominant Kurdish group in northern Syria whose armed wing, known as the People’s Protections Units (YPG), is the US-led coalition’s top ground force in the fight against the Islamic State. PKK is short for the Kurdistan Workers Party, the militia that is fighting for Kurdish self-rule inside Turkey and is closely allied with the PYD. Turkey says they are one and the same.

The summit to discuss the trio’s future steps in Syria is part of the so-called Astana process to end hostilities between regime forces and opposition rebels through a series of cease-fires, the establishment of humanitarian corridors and the deployment of peace monitors in the country’s north, west and south, which fall outside the United States’ zone of influence. Of immediate concern is the fate of Idlib province, the last remaining rebel stronghold on the Turkish border where infighting among jihadi groups is weakening their grip.

Also unanswered was what to do about the turf Turkey had paid for in blood.

Earlier this week, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov expressed the opinion that the logical thing to do was for Turkey to hand the conquered territory over to Assad.

Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov stated that Russia expects Turkey to bring the Syrian town of Afrin – the focus of a Turkish military operation – under the control of the Syrian government, AP reported.

In his statement on Monday, Lavrov expressed that Turkish president, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, had “never said that Turkey wants to occupy Afrin,’’ noting that Russia’s expectation is for Turkey to bring the area – previously controlled by the People’s Protection Units (YPG) which Turkey deems as a terrorist organization – under Syrian government control.

Just a day later, Erdogan told Lavrov to FOAD:

Speaking to reporters, Erdogan called Lavrov’s remarks “a very wrong approach. We know full well to whom we will give back Afrin.” He added, “We will personally hand over Afrin to the people of Afrin when the time is right. But the timing of this is up to us. We will decide this, not Mr. Lavrov.”

The exchange highlights fissures in Turkey’s relations with Russia, even as the two sides have grown closer in recent years and are working together to find a solution to the seven-year Syrian civil war. During the first week in April, Erdogan hosted his Iranian and Russian counterparts at a summit in Ankara to discuss their joint effort to stabilize Turkey’s southern neighbor.


The daily Cumhuriyet reported that Lavrov’s call has angered Turkish officials. Turkish Defense Minister Nurettin Canikli claims that predominantly Kurdish Afrin still poses a threat to Turkey and has said that its forces will remain in the region until the “risks are completely gone, and we will continue to remain there until our work is finished,” indicating that Turkey wants to see a political resolution of the war before withdrawing.

Meanwhile, after a Cabinet meeting on April 9, Deputy Prime Minister Bekir Bozdag said that Turkey will return Afrin to the local inhabitants and will support the administration they form.

“The Turkish Armed Forces are not occupiers in Afrin, and they are not there permanently,” he added.

Therein, as the man said, lies the rub. Which “local inhabitants” are they talking about

While the claims of ethnic cleansing are unproven, at this point, the Turks have shown over the years that they are more than willing to break a few eggs for the sake of an omelet. The best color you can put on the situation is that Turkey intends to hold onto the territory it has acquired until things stabilize. The growing view is that Turkey is going to set up a Turkish puppet state composed of people it has imported while driving the Kurds out of their homes.