Moscow hopes to take advantage of Turkish offensive in northern Syria

Russia believes it can strengthen its dominant position in the settlement of the conflict and promote a rapprochement of the Kurds with Damascus.

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Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin on September 16 in Ankara.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin on September 16 in Ankara. Burhan Ozbilici / AP

By proposing itself as mediator in the crisis, Moscow hopes to strengthen its dominant position in the Syrian file. "We will now defend the need to establish a dialogue between Turkey and Syria"Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said on Thursday (October 10th) while saying "To understand Turkey's concern about the security of its borders". At first, Moscow had been content with shy calls for restraint, with Putin advising his Turkish counterpart, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, to " think carefully ", during a telephone conversation on Wednesday.

"The current situation has everything to strengthen Moscowsays Alexandre Choumiline, director of the Middle East Studies Center of the Russian Academy of Sciences. Russia knows how to take advantage of others' mistakes and take empty spaces, as in 2013 after Barack Obama's decision not to hit Damascus (despite the "red lines" set by the United States). Today, Washington is back again and in a weak position. As for Turkey, it will find itself more and more isolated. "

Even though the interests of Ankara and Moscow are divergent over Syria and their fluctuating relations, Russia can rejoice to see a new rift between Turks and Americans, allied within NATO. The Turkish decision to bring the Russian air defense system S-400 had already caused a crisis between the two countries in the summer.

The Russian priority, however, remains to protect his ally Bashar al-Assad in Damascus and extend the territory controlled by the latter. The latest developments in the north of the country could also offer a window of opportunity. Moscow has never broken contact with Kurdish groups, trying to convince them to accept a tutelage of Damascus. The distrust of the Kurds and the intransigence of Damascus on the degree of sovereignty granted to Kurdish areas have so far defeated this project, but the pressure put by the Turkish offensive could change the situation. Sergey Lavrov said on Thursday that he wanted to establish contacts between Damascus and Kurdish organizations.

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The risks of rapid destabilization

"Kurds are for Moscow a useful adjustment variable, as they are for Washingtonstill considers Mr. Choumiline. And, in the current situation, Moscow is ready to abandon them in the face of superior interests. This was already the case early in 2018 in Afrin, when the Russian forces left the YPG in the city facing the Turkish operation "Shield of the Euphrates". "


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