It’s all over but the shouting, and there really doesn’t even seem to be much of that. Yesterday was supposed to be the end of the ceasefire in northeastern Syria, at which point we expected the Turks to begin “cleansing” the twenty-mile wide border region of any remaining Kurdish fighters. But dawn broke and the fighting still seems to be on hold. The reason was announced earlier this morning and it seems that the Russians have stepped in and put all the combatants back in their respective corners. (Associated Press)
Turkey’s Defense Ministry is signaling it won’t resume its offensive in northeast Syria, following agreements reached with the U.S. and Russia.
The ministry said early on Wednesday the U.S. had announced Syrian Kurdish fighters completed their pullout from areas Turkey invaded this month as a five-day cease-fire allowing for the withdrawal expired.
This came after the leaders of Russia and Turkey announced a separate deal for their forces to jointly patrol almost the entire northeastern Syrian border after the Kurdish withdrawal.
I suppose we can look at this as one of those “good news, bad news” deals if you’re the optimistic sort. While they’ve lost their territory in the north, the Syrian Kurds have relocated to the south and are no longer being slaughtered. The border region is at least theoretically open for displaced Syrians to return and resettle the area. (There will be a lot of infrastructure work required before that can happen at any large scale, though.)
But what sort of peace has been achieved? The only reason nobody is fighting right now is that Russia is effectively in control of the entire northern border of Syria. To the east, they are jointly patrolling with the Turks (who apparently now own that territory). To the west, they are patrolling in coordination with Bashar al-Assad’s Syrian military. So the Russians now control not only the naval port at Tartus but essentially the entire northern section of the country.
At the same time, Russia’s relationship with Turkey seems to be a permanent fixture, splintering Erdogan’s nation further away from their supposed allies in NATO. With Iraq saying that our troops need to clear out of that country and Iran’s influence there on the rise, we basically no longer have a foothold anywhere in that region closer than Israel. (Well, these days I suppose we could count Saudi Arabia and Kuwait, but that’s iffy in its own way.)
A lack of shelling and people being “cleansed” along the border is still a good thing, and if our remaining troops are coming home that’s a plus also. But it’s impossible to deny at least the perception that we wound up being totally played in that part of the word. And if there’s a real winner here out of all the various interests competing in that region, it certainly looks like it’s the Russians.
Was this the ending we were shooting for after all these years of involvement? It doesn’t sound like it, but if we stop losing our soldiers over there perhaps it’s the best we could hope for now.