Putin Proposed to Erdogan to Allow Idlib to Fall to Assad in Return for a Narrow Buffer Zone

Erdogan wasn't thrilled with what he was hearing, but he did get some free ice cream

They say that familiarity breeds contempt. In recent years Russian President Vladimir Putin has met his Turkish counterpart more than any other foreign leader. Practically every meeting between the two brings something amusing, be it Putin pulling the chair from under President Recep Tayyip Erdogan or treating the Turkish leader with Russian ice cream.

Both obviously enjoy media attention and know how to work public interest in their personas. Both still have the ability to surprise the public. Both seem to enjoy it. Most importantly, however, they know how to link the projection of this “special personal relationship” between the two to the improvement of Russia-Turkey relations.

Only last week many expected — some with excitement, others with fear — that Moscow and Ankara are heading toward a concrete wall of uncompromised disagreements and are about to experience another crisis similar to that of November 2015 when Turkey shot down a Russian jet over Syria. Erdogan’s decision to visit Moscow came as a surprise and was by and large seen as a sign that Turkey was reaching a dead end in its policies in Idlib and was thus seeking a compromise in Moscow. Now Putin has Erdogan open the 14th International Aviation and Space Salon MAKS-2019, gives him a friendly tour around Russia’s most innovative military and civil vehicles and buys the Turkish delegation a selection of vanilla and chocolate ice cream. The ice cream, however, was the only thing Erdogan got for free in Moscow: Other things he had to either pay for, bargain over or concede.

“We have shown you a series of various products, both military and civilian. They not only demonstrate Russia’s capability in aerospace but also offer a variety of cooperation opportunities. We know about Turkey’s high-tech development plans. Of course, we could join forces in the areas where our capabilities are especially strong and sought after,” Putin told Erdogan on Aug. 27 after they attended the MAKS salon.

“Today we have taken a closer look at Russia’s defense industry. I would like to express satisfaction at the fact that today we also saw Russian-made engines for passenger airliners, combat aircraft, helicopters and other aviation equipment. We also watched the demonstration flights of combat aircraft, including the Su-34, Su-35 and Su-57. We have also been updated on Russia’s space activities and the measures you are taking to boost your space industry. Everyone knows that Russian researchers have reached very high standards in this sphere,” Erdogan replied.

Putin had a solid calculated reason to start Erdogan’s visit to Russia with demonstrations and offers of the Russian military hardware rather than discussions over Idlib. The two are still at loggerheads over the Syrian area but it’s the strategic independence in military affairs and defense policies that Moscow seeks to emphasize in relations with Ankara, not some regional disagreements in Syria that, in fairness, play little strategic role for Russia. It was also no coincidence that the second batch of the Russian S-400 missile systems arrived in Turkey the same day.

“Russia acts as a provider of sovereignty for Turkey,” Andrey Sushentsov, director of the Institute of International Studies at the Moscow State Institute of International Relations, told Al-Monitor.

“Metaphorically speaking, Moscow is giving out umbrellas in case of rainy days to those who need it. The strategic significance of the deal is even more important than the positive toll it had on the bilateral relations. More countries that seek to secure their own sovereignty will see Russia as a provider of their sovereignty,” added Sushentsov, who is also a program director at the Valdai Club, a discussion group and think tank.

The focus on developing cooperation in the military-technical field was placed by Putin as being of bottom-line importance for the Russian-Turkish relationship, and it seems to have worked for the Russians. At least it helped set the tone for the subsequent discussion on Idlib and helped devise solutions, as temporary as they may be, acceptable more for Moscow than for Ankara.

Putin floated the idea of implementing the buffer zone along Turkey’s border with Idlib as a decision to keep Turkey safe from tens of thousands of refugees and allow Assad take over one of the last opposition-held strongholds. Erdogan, however, wasn’t particularly excited either about the prospects of having to continue executing its commitments under the Sochi accord and having to somehow react to Syrian army attacks on its military posts without sparking a bigger spat with Moscow.

Putin, summarizing the results of the talks over the issue, said, “Russia and Turkey cooperate closely in the Astana format along with Iran. We believe this format is the most effective tool for overcoming the crisis in Syria.… [In Idlib] the terrorists continue shelling Syrian government troop positions and trying to attack Russian military facilities. We are convinced that the deescalation zone should not serve as a shelter for militants, or be a bridgehead for new attacks. In this context, the president of Turkey and I mapped out additional joint measures for neutralizing terrorist hotbeds in Idlib and normalizing the situation both in this zone and in the rest of Syria.”

In reality, it appears to mean that the Russian and Turkish militaries and intelligence teams get tasked with yet another mission of elaborating these “additional joint measures” that may virtually freeze the status quo until the trilateral summit between Putin, Erdogan and Rouhani in Ankara on Sept. 16. The trick is the status quo in the current situation likely means the continued advance of the Syrian army in the area at best, perhaps, with less deadly attacks on Turkey’s own military posts.

If this is the case, Putin’s “ice cream diplomacy” may prove to be more of a “dondurma treatment” that visitors encounter on streets of Turkish towns that involves ice cream vendors teasing the buyers — except for that with Putin the “teasing” serves some concrete political and operational goals. There are reassuring Erdogan that Russia cares for Turkey’s strategic interests more than the United States while also gaining time for Assad to complete the takeover of Idlib.

Source: Al Monitor

  1. ArcAngel says

    Love the sub title.
    “….but he did get ice cream”. Classic
    Mr. Suchkov made many decent points but I would disagree on this one…
    “…it’s the strategic independence in military affairs and defense policies that Moscow seeks to emphasize in relations with Ankara, not some regional disagreements in Syria that, in fairness, play little strategic role for Russia.”
    Syria is strategic, and I believe, very important in Russia’s geo-political affairs.
    Where is the world “on fire” and where is the worlds (current) “life blood” ie oil, coming from…that would be the ME.
    The Eastern Med, the entire Middle East, the Gulf, the Straights… how are these not strategic?
    As far as I can see, the Turks, that being the Sultan and his Gang, have over played their hand in Syria and now it is getting slapped. After much patience displayed by the Russians.
    I am reminded of the first days when Putin came to power and had a meeting with all the oligarchs that were ripping Russia apart…it was held in Stalin’s Dachau (talk about making a statement), and he laided down the Law. Basically, ‘play fair or your done’. Putin won the oligarc war. I have a feeling a similar situation happened between the two behind closed doors.
    Putin….. “Here is how it is going to go…first off….”
    “if not, you always have the Americans…”
    The Sultan “OK”
    Turkey’s operation, I believe is done…it should never have fuked with Russia on the Sochci Accord and allowed the terrorists to spread like a cancer and worse, feed and support it. Should never have shoot down a Ru fighter and killed it pilot in cold blood and upload the video to the net.
    The situation is Syria has been very interesting since 7 August. Some of Turkey’s outposts are surround, its convoys bombed and is now its on the defensive in Idlib.
    Syria has stated its goals are to “reclaim ALL of Syria”… and its on the offensive.
    With rumors that Russian Spetsnaz Teams are on the hunt in Syria…
    THAT is something not to be ignored.
    In the end I can see a small buffer zone on the border of Turkey and Syria…who will monitor it is any bodies guess…
    In the end Russia is now running the Syrian Show, but it doesn’t mean she likes it.
    The next few weeks and months are going to very interesting as the Syrians go after the US and Kurds.

  2. Mary E says

    Putin is such a good negotiator..always working toward a win-win situation for the parties involved…Putin is on the right path for Syria’s freedom from terrorists and When Ergodan agrees to play ball with him, it will be a benign (hopefully)transition…from a long violent situation that never should have happened…and wouldn’t have except for the US wanting to steal Syria’s oil….and aren’t they still there ‘guarding’ that oil for themselves???!?
    How else will Turkey’s surrounded troops hope to get out their quagmire if not make a deal with Russia….

    1. Randall Cook says

      Ha ha Assad and you will be forgotten dust particles in thirty years. Last time the mighty vatniks threw their weight at American liberators in Syria, the russkis got clobbered. As will any forces going against American firepower.

      1. ArcAngel says

        Put down the crack pipe. You’re delusional.

      2. Richard Dickson says

        I don’t know what you’re smoking, but Russians never engaged Americans in Syria, and if they did it would be a total wipeout.

        There was a time when NATO lost several hundred operatives, including 300 U.S contractors, when Russia/Syria liberated East Ghouta!

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