Russian President Vladimir Putin with Syria’s Bashar al-Assad, Moscow, November 2015
The Kremlin has bluntly rejected the Assad regime’s pressure for a renewal of military operations to overrun the opposition area in northwest Syria.
Moscow reaffirmed its support on Tuesday for the demilitarized zone, which it declared alongside Turkey on September 17, around opposition territory in Idlib and northern Hama Provinces.
The regime’s Foreign Minister Walid al-Moallem challenged the agreement late Monday, claiming that Turkey was not implementing the 15 to 20-km wide and 100-km long zone.
“The terrorists still exist with their heavy arms in this region and this is an indicator of Turkey’s unwillingness to fulfill its obligations,” Moallem declared.
Rebels have remained in the zone while withdrawing their heavy weapons, as Turkish forces moved in arms to oversee the ceasefire.
The jihadist bloc Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham also rejected the demand that it fully pull out of the zone by a mid-October zone — although Turkey is supporting rebel factions to erode HTS’s control over part of Idlib.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Tuesday in response to the Assad regime’s challenge, “No, we don’t see any threat now.”
Implicitly referring to the rebel presence, Peskov said:
Unfortunately, not everything is in line with the plan, I mean the ideal plan, which our Turkish colleagues had. [President Vladimir] Putin said that we understand this as the situation is really very difficult….The Turkish side is making great efforts to fulfill all agreements.
Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu told a news conference in Istanbul, “There are currently no issues in implementing the memorandum….Everything is going as planned.”
Assad regime forces have shelled the perimeter of the zone, killing seven people — including three children — last Friday.
But on Saturday Putin and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan were joined by France’s Emmanuel Macron and Germany’s Angela Merkel in reaffirming the zone.
Erdoğan Repeats Pledge to Attack Kurdish Militia in Northeast
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has repeated his pledge to pursue military operations against the Kurdish militia YPG — the leading group in the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces — throughout northern Syria.
Erdoğan told legislators from his ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP), “We will destroy the terror structure east of the Euphrates River. We have completed preparations and plans regarding this issue.”
Turkish forces shelled YPG positions on the eastern shore of the Euphrates River in northeast Syria on Sunday, two days after Erdoğan promised, “We will eliminate the threat towards Turkey” and issued a “final warning”.
The Erdoğan Government considers the YPG part of the Turkish Kurdish insurgency PKK, which has battled Ankara’s security forces for more than 30 years.
The US, switching its support from Syria’s rebels, created the Syrian Democratic Forces in autumn 2015 to push back the Islamic State. The SDF now holds much of northern and eastern Syria — about 1/3 of the country — with ISIS reduced to pockets near the Iraq border.
Turkish objections could not stop the SDF’s move west of the Euphrates, as far as Manbij in western Aleppo Province. However, in early 2018, a Turkish-rebel offensive overran the Kurdish canton of Afrin in northwest Syria, leaving the Kurds in effective control of the Kobane and Cezire cantons in the north and northeast.
Norway’s Pedersen Named as UN Envoy
Norwegian diplomat Geir Pedersen will succeed Staffan de Mistura as UN envoy for Syria.
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres told the Security Council in a letter of the appointment:
In taking this decision, I have consulted broadly, including with the Government of the Syrian Arab Republic. Mr. Pedersen will support the Syrian parties by facilitating an inclusive and credible political solution that meets the democratic aspirations of the Syrian people.
Diplomats said Pedersen, Norway’s ambassador to China, has the informal approval of the Council’s permanent members — Russia, China, the US, France, and Britain.
De Mistura announced earlier this month that he is departing at the end of November, after four years in the post. He had achieved little in pursuit of a political resolution, as Russia has taking the initiative, with essential military support of the Assad regime and seizure of the lead in political talks in Geneva, the Kazakh capital Astana, and the Russian resort city of Sochi.
Last week the Assad regime said goodbye to De Mistura in Damascus by rejecting his attempt to establish a Constitutional committee.