Did Russia and Turkey Just Initiate the End of the Conflict in Syria?

Turkey, Russia and the United Arab Emirates have recently stepped up their efforts to prop up Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and put an end to a prolonged conflict that the United States and the Collective West have largely stoked.  

Turkey originally backed opposition movements to the Assad regime back in 2011. However, the geopolitical winds have shifted since then, with the regime of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan now becoming receptive to recognizing Assad’s control over Syria and normalizing diplomatic ties with it.

According to a report by Stars and Stripes, Erdogan wants Syria, in return, to prevent the Kurdish YPG militant group from setting up an autonomous region in northern Syria — an area which YPG occupies. This is a non-negotiable condition that Turkey expects Syria to comply with for any future peace plan. 

Erdogan entertained the concept of meeting with Assad on January 5, 2023, after several meetings between high-level Syrian and Turkish elected officials in late December. 

“We will come together as leaders according to the developments,” Erdogan said with regards to a potential meeting with Assad and Putin.

This new diplomatic breakthrough is supported by Russia — Syria’s principal military ally — and the UAE. The latter has attempted to improve Assad’s position in Middle Eastern geopolitics as a means of balancing against Iran, which has used proxy militant groups to establish a foothold in Syria that threatens Sunni Arab states and Israel. Currently, Syria has been slapped with stringent Western sanctions and has been kicked out of the Arab League.

With Turkey and Syria repairing relations, Russia’s position in the Middle East appears to be strengthening. In turn, Russia will use diplomatic and military pressure on the US to have it withdraw its troops from Syria. 

“We will not normalize and we do not support other countries normalizing relations with the Assad regime,” US State Department spokesperson Ned Price declared on January 5 when he was asked to opine about a prospective meeting between Assad and Erdogan.

“We’ve seen reports of potential meetings, whether it’s a bilateral meeting, whether it is a trilateral discussion involving Russia as well,” he said.

The Syrian Civil War, which started in 2011, quickly became an international struggle as it drew external actors ranging from Iran, Russia, Turkey, and the US who have all attempted to grow their influence in Syria. Per United Nations estimates, 350,000 civilians have perished in this conflict thus far.

Turkey has largely come around to brokering peace in Syria after recognizing how willing the US is to support YPG and allied Kurdish separatist fighters in northern areas of Syria that border Turkey. YPG is connected to Kurdish militant groups that the Turkish state views as terrorist organizations. Similarly, the Syrian state does not want an autonomous Kurdish state within Syria, thereby creating a mutual interest with Turkey in suppressing the Kurds.

Later in January, the foreign ministers of Russia, Syria, and Turkey are expected to meet to end this conflict. Should peace be reached in Syria, this would represent another victory for multipolarity, as the US and its allies in the Collective West would effectively be pushed out of Syria and rendered irrelevant in the diplomatic settlement process. 

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