Russia’s Putin Seeks Syria ‘Safe Zones’ After Talks With Turkey, US

Says Zones Should Focus on Strengthening the Ceasefire

In a significant shift, Russian President Vladimir Putin has come out of recent talks with Turkey’s President Erdogan and US President Trump also endorsing the idea of “safe zones” being established in northern Syria, envisioning the areas being created to provide buffers between rival forces and enhance the ongoing ceasefire.

And while the Syrian government had previously rejected the proposal as set out by Turkey and the US, they also endorsed the Russian idea, terming the areas “deescalation zones” which could reduce the amount of fighting and confirm their commitment to the peace process.

This, of course, is radically different from the “safe zones” as long presented by Turkey, and by extension what the US was presumably endorsing in their own talks with Turkey, as these zones were envisioned, while publicly housing refugees, as also serving as an untouchable base of operations for the rebels.

Indeed, that was the big selling point as far as Turkish officials were concerned, that the “safe zones” would allow rebel factions to go out and attack Syrian military targets with virtual impunity, as they could quickly flee back to the safe zones, safe in the knowledge that US warplanes would attack anyone who tried to retaliate against them.

Which of course is the opposite of how safe zones actually work, and also why Syria had been so dismissive of the idea in the past. The new, Russian-backed version appears intended to be fully demilitarized, as a way of keeping the growing number of warring factions in Syria away from one another.

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Author: Jason Ditz

Jason Ditz is news editor of Antiwar.com.

  • Tecumseh1768

    Did Charlie Brown ever get to actually kick the football?

  • eric

    The Russia version of demilitarized safe zones should actually cut down on the killing The UN safe zones in Yugoslavia where more safe zones for the favored side that retained their weapons in the safe zones but were supposed to be protected by UN troops

  • Bianca

    The “safe zones” were abused in Bosnia. UN trucks with humanitarian aid were brining in weapons and ammunition to the protected Moslem enclaves. One such was Srebrenica, from where with impunity Moslem head choppers raided surrounding Serbian villages, with untold brutality killing and mutilating everyone that did not flee, not sparing babies, old and disabled, or pregnant women. In Srebrenica itself, Serbian population survived simply to maintain the image of “good Moslems”, and because UN and other contingents were there. Remember the Dutch contingent that supposedly stood by while Serbs took over Srebrenica, and presumably killed 8,000 men and boys? The whole drama was part of the US attempt to get rid of the conservative Dutch government and bring liberal globalist to power. Srebrenica lie was part and parcel of the ploy — that unfortunately worked.
    The fact that Serbs were allowed to enter Srebrenica is always overlooked. They were allowed to take Srebrenica in order to create a focus of media and political drama, while the entire Serbian Krajina in Croatia has been emptied of its population. With the least amount of media coverage of the largest ethnic cleansing in Europe since WWII. Bosnian militants left before the takeover, and apart from some revenge killings, there is no evidence of 8,000 killed. In fact, Sarajevo was allowed to count all their dead from the front stretching from Srebrenica to Tuzla, and until today, Srebrenica monument lists a great number of people who are still alive, as well as people who died before the war, and their relatives have been trying for years to have their names removed from the monument. Safe zones provide no safety, but are the opportunities for crimes with impunity. So, there is no danger of Russia allowing another such slimy “solution”.

    The proposed de-escalation zones are in fact the zones where there are three kinds of combatants. On one side is ISIS and Al-Qaeda (under its third name), and on the other local Islamist militia fighters (called
    “moderate” opposition), groups that now in desperation US is clinging on as the only groups not associated with terrorists as designated by UN. The problem with these groups (Jaish Al-Islam, and others) is that they are also Salafi Islamists, and have committed many crimes, but are very coy about their relationship with Al-Qaeda and ISIS. Russia has tried to get US support to separate them, and set down the markers on how to track their actions. These groups have been set up early on in the fight by local strongmen, opportunistically assuming that Assad “would go”, and were protecting their turf, as well as future power sharing. As the time went on, they found themselves more pressured to work with Al-Qaeda, as it became apparently clear that West is supporting it, and went all out to keep them in Aleppo. With this level of Western propaganda in favor of “rebels”, and mourning the fall of Aleppo, the stronger of these groups were unwilling to enter into reconciliation agreement with Damascus. Many smaller groups did, in fact, over 500 of them are back to civilian life, getting funding from Damascus for running their local government as well as their own policing. There is no need for Damascus to spend any military resources on these areas any more. But larger groups were not ready to give in, as they still hoped for a change in US policy, breakdown in Russian-Turkish relations, or some other complicating factor for Damascus. They participated in the first Astana meeting, but they did not in the second, but showed up at the last one. This was the result of the shifting US policies. US and Saudi Arabia are trying to impose a “coordinator” on them, one of the Soros-trained “conflict management” experts. But the leaders of these groups are too battle hardened to listen to such types. Situation is changing again. With US unable or unwilling to take on ISIS in Raqqa, and with Kurds not up to such major task even with US support, and are clearly not wanted in most of the Raqqa region where Kurdish population is a small minority — the ISIS operation has stalled.

    But Saudi Arabia, that is still paying and arming ISIS, has changed strategy (with possible US input); ISIS is attacking the “moderate” militias, forcing them to seek alliances with Al-Qaeda, while Al-Qaeda is attacking government forces. And thus, sucking the “independents” into the joint fight against the government. Lately, this created a strife among various militias, those that do not wish to be branded terrorist allies, and those that still feel that Saudi Arabia and US will — at least in short term — pay to continue fighting. Some weaker ones are very nervous, but even stronger ones are now worried to be tainted by association with designated terrorists. And their assumption is, Syrian institutions are going to pull through, even if Assad steps down. Syrian Government and military are getting stronger. Government is having resources to pay for services in localities that expelled Al-Nusra to Idlib, and accepted reconciliation plan. Many of warlord run areas are getting exhausted, as more territory is now under government control. The government controlled areas get regular humanitarian aid, local government funds, and are not managed by military. Army is getting stronger and is not lacking recruits. Army now has many special elite units that are trained by both Russian and Chinese, modern weapons and tactics. Many Syrians are signing up to be trained for specialized skills, like demining, military first aid, search and rescue operations, intelligence, civil defense, military police, etc. All of that is freeing up military personnel to respond to ISIS/Al-Qaeda surprises.

    The objective of identifying de-conflicting zones is simple. Jointly establish rules of conduct for “moderate” warlords. They will be asked to fight against ISIS and Al-Qaeda, which they claim they do, but could not defend themselves from them. In turn, they will get support (it will have to be multilateral and cannot be done without Damascus participation), and military protection. I am assuming that these groups must have signed up for something along those lines in the latest round of Astana talks. This may be an elegant way of letting them retain their “opposition” status, while receiving both humanitarian aid and military protection. It will be interesting to see if US is willing to let go of managing the areas, and leave it up to Russia and Turkey. I am very sure that the “High Negotiating Committee” in Saudi Arabia will not be happy, and will try to modify the terms.

    But is US capable to get involved to such a level in Syria, where the only viable fighting is coming from designated terrorists? While at the same time crisis is ratcheting up around Korea, in Balkans, Afghanistan and around Mosul. Is this a face saving device, to get at least some “moderate Islamists” saved, by clear separation from ISIS and Al-Qaeda, and from their vicious infighting. Russia is getting somewhere, as after a long time of refusing, US will have to accept the defeat of anything that could be called “moderate”, and may try to salvage at least two largest warlord run Islamic groups. For Damascus, Russia and Turkey, this is a great opportunity, as all parties in the conflict — US, Turkey, Russia, Damascus, Iran and Hezbollah and “moderate Islamists opposition” — will be technically on the same side. Let us look at Kurds. Turkish operation that reached Al-Bab was the key to end game. Russia’s air force helped in defeating ISIS in the town itself, while Syrian Army took over the country side. So much was made of Free Syrian Army working for Turkey, spoiling for fight with Assad’s forces at the point of contact. Look at the map today — between Turkish controlled area, and the government controlled area there is no daylight. This blocks Kurds from Afrin area joining Kurds from Kobani area, and creating a contiguous state along Turkish border. With Kurds in Turkey on the other side, it would be impossible to control the border any more. Geopolitically, this is of utmost importance not just for Turkey, but for Russia, Syria, Iraq, Iran and Lebanon. If Kurds manage to get an area that borders Turkey, Syria, Iraq and Iran under their control, and the control of their Western sponsors, the trade, transportation and all connectivity among these states, not to mention water resources, would be subject to their whim. As it stands, Kurds of Kobani are not the force capable of dislodging ISIS, giving ISIS plenty of time to shift manpower to Deir Azzor, and attack Syrian Army. Will the US have to ditch neocon favorite geopolitical objective and allow Turkey to clear out ISIS from Al-Raqqa region, and remain in control of the area until the completion of Syrian political settlement and elections? I somehow think that this will be a hard one to swallow for many in Washington.

    Protests that one hears from Damascus or Baghdad about Turkish involvement is a theater, aimed at giving Kurds some assurance that they will be protected from Turkey. But for that, they need to be nice to Baghdad and Damascus. Since US and allies cannot outright give Kurds their territory by force, and US failed to make Kurds a military factor in either Syria and Iraq — plan C, D, or E is needed for US planners. But outside of outright military intervention — the process has stalled. Both in Syria and Iraq. Giving regional actors more room to collaborate with Damascus and Baghdad to bring about end of terrorist-controlled areas.

  • This could be a major f**king game changer but I’d bet the proverbial farm that if Trump doesn’t sabotage it Erdogan will.