After a series of statements that were not devoid of his famous phrase, “There is no resentment and eternal disagreement in politics,” the Turkish President, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, announced that Ankara wants to normalize relations with Damascus, through “triple contacts” that include Russia, in a vision that Moscow quickly received as “positive.” While the Syrian regime did not comment on it.
Erdogan’s vision, which was presented as a “road map”, is based on three stations, the first is that “our intelligence organizations unite,” then “our defense ministers must meet,” and after that “our foreign ministers meet,” and the third station culminates in “meeting as leaders,” in A reference to the head of the Syrian regime, Bashar al-Assad, and his Russian counterpart, Vladimir Putin.
Months ago, Moscow started playing the rhythms of this track, expressing, through the words of its senior officials, its willingness to bring Assad and Erdogan together, and to work within the framework of “mediation”.
While Erdogan indicated to reporters, on Thursday, that Putin viewed the tripartite proposal with “positiveness”, this was confirmed on Friday by the Russian Deputy Foreign Minister, Mikhail Bogdanov, by saying: “Moscow is very positive about the idea of the Turkish president,” announcing on the other hand. We are now in contact with our Syrian friends.
Although the path of “re-normalization” operations, which Ankara has been pursuing for more than a year, is linked to a general framework, meaning that it targeted the UAE, Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Israel, the nature of the resumption of relations with the Syrian regime “has exceptional privacy.”
This privacy is linked to several considerations, according to observers, including that the Syrian regime, after 11 years of war in Syria, is still an “international pariah”, on the one hand, while it does not have full military and security decision-making authority over the Syrian geography, which is divided into different spheres of influence, in which forces are located. Local opposition to him and international forces as well.
However, the contexts through which Turkish officials speak indicate that Ankara’s main goal behind the intention to normalize relations with Assad is related to “fighting terrorism”, ensuring the “safe” return of refugees, and advancing the path of a political solution in the country.
“on opposite sides”
The Syrian regime has not yet shown any negative or positive signs regarding what officials in Ankara, led by Erdogan, say, unlike its ally Moscow, which confirms its intention to play the role of “mediation”, without specifying any horizon for what the relationship will be like in the future.
For many years, there has been no political contact between Ankara and Damascus, as well as the military track, but the two sides tended to engage in intelligence talks, which were further revealed after 2019.
Turkey has many forces inside the Syrian territories, in Idlib Governorate, the Aleppo countryside and other areas in northern and eastern Syria within the regions of Tal Abyad and Ras al-Ain, and it also militarily supports an anti-Assad coalition, the “Syrian National Army”.
The same applies to the political side, as Turkey is considered the main haven for the work and activities of political bodies opposing Assad, such as the opposition “Syrian National Coalition”, while Ankara is involved in talks on the Syrian file, and constantly affirms its vision for a solution in the country, according to Security Council Resolution 2254.
What can the lion offer?
In view of the nature of these files, observers who spoke to Al-Hurra believe that any normalization process will not be an “easy” matter, despite the great push through which Moscow is trying to make a “breach”.
Accordingly, questions arise about the main goal that Ankara wants from what it is proceeding with? And whether the Syrian regime is able to offer anything in its favour, especially since it still describes the Turkish presence in Syria as an “occupation”, while refusing to engage in any direct talks with its opponents, whether political or military.
The Turkish researcher and journalist, Levent Kemal, believes that “the Assad regime has nothing to offer Turkey. It has nothing economically, politically or security-wise, and even closed its institutions, due to the economic crisis in the areas that are controlled by an economic burden.”
In terms of security, while cooperation between Damascus and “the People’s Protection Units/PKK is clear, Turkey has nothing to gain from that,” according to Kamal.
He explained to Al-Hurra: “From this point of view, there is currently no guarantee that Russia will provide it through Syria. Moscow does not consider the PKK, and therefore the People’s Protection Units, a terrorist organization.”
“It is an intermediate site between Damascus and the organization. In other words, Turkey has fallen into a position where it cannot gain anything from Damascus and Moscow,” according to Kamal.
For his part, Anton Mardasov, a Russian analyst and non-resident researcher at the Middle East Institute, says, “The only issue that the Assad regime and Ankara can talk about is the Syrian Democratic Forces, and everything beyond it is not suitable for Damascus.”
And he continues in an interview with Al-Hurra website: “Because this will result in negotiations over the status of the opposition’s lands, which, although they live officially according to the laws approved in Damascus, will demand unpleasant concessions for Assad.”
Mardasov refers to Legislative Decree 107 approved in Damascus in 2011, which is considered “a source of legitimacy for the opposition local councils,” as he put it, while on the other hand, he explains that he has so far seen “only bargaining and a deep trend towards rapprochement between Damascus and Ankara, through the line of special services.” “.
In addition, the cross-border humanitarian assistance mechanism expires next January.
The Russian researcher believes that “the negotiations regarding this process and the possibility of supplying the population in Idlib are linked to the course of negotiations between Russia and Turkey.”
What about the system?
With regard to the Syrian regime, its foreign minister, Faisal al-Miqdad, had recently spoken of what he described as “entitlements, not conditions”, in order to advance any normalization process with Ankara, calling on Turkey to withdraw from Syria and not to remain within “one millimeter.”
The regime in Damascus did not talk about anything else during the recent period, and it even repeated its position on the groups that oppose it politically and militarily, calling for stopping support for them as well.
The political analyst residing in Damascus, Ghassan Youssef, considered that the Syrian regime “can offer a lot,” explaining by saying: “When relations were good, Syria was a passage for Turkey to the Gulf states.”
He added to the “Al-Hurra” website: “We may be facing a Turkish economic opening to Syria, in the event that a political solution is reached between the two countries.”
“Ankara can be a major regional center of gravity in the region, especially since its relations with the Gulf states have improved, and therefore it needs Syria.” Nevertheless, the political analyst believes that relations will return between Damascus and Ankara “but with conditions,” and that “each country has certain conditions that have become clear to both parties.”
With regard to the parties that oppose Assad militarily and politically, Youssef considered that “the Syrian state will not negotiate with those who do not hold the cards,” and that “in the future, a government of national unity will be formed in which the opposition has not been mortgaged to the outside,” noting that “the state wants to return the refugees, and it has a long history.” in issuing pardons and reconciliations.
The United Nations affirms that Syria is still not a safe country for the return of refugees, while international human rights organizations are documenting the continuation of the Syrian regime’s security detention operations. Reports and investigations have also spread during the recent period, proving the latter’s involvement in systematic killings of his opponents, in the early years of the revolution in the country.
In addition, Western countries and the United States of America continue their position on the Syrian regime, while continuing to stress that the solution in Syria can only take place in accordance with Security Council Resolution 2254, which has previously been confirmed by the Turkish Foreign Ministry as well.
“may take pictures”
As Erdogan said, the next stage can be achieved through mutual negotiations between institutions first: ministers and intelligence agencies.
In turn, the Turkish researcher, Kemal, believes that “in the short term, Erdogan’s meeting with Al-Assad will be an urgent Russian propaganda.”
He explains, “Because ministers and other institutions need to discuss the topic and present it to the chiefs to clear certain lines. Otherwise, any rush interview will be just to take pictures.”
There is no clear reason, at the present time, behind what Ankara is trying to start regarding the relationship with the Syrian regime.
Kamal adds, “Erdogan has economic and regional interests from Saudi Arabia and the UAE, but Assad has nothing to offer.” It is believed that the reason for this position “is the influence of pro-Russian Eurasians, Erdogan’s new ally,” as he put it.
As for the Russian researcher, Anton Mardasov, he points out that “Turkey is planning to conduct an operation and presents options that are viewed positively in the Kremlin, just as Russia offers Turkey options not to conduct a new operation.”
He adds, “Because this will require additional resources for Moscow while distracting it from the war in Ukraine, and will complicate its dialogue with the Syrian Democratic Forces.”