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Rumors about the “death” of Russian-Turkish alliance in Syria greatly exaggerated

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The breakthrough in trade and other economic relations between Russia and Turkey has quite naturally spread to the realm of politics, best reflected in the two countries’ coordinated actions in Syria. This is all the more surprising, since only recently military-technical cooperation between Moscow and Ankara was absolutely unthinkable. Wary of this trend, members of the Western antiterrorist coalition fighting ISIL (a terrorist organization banned in Russia) have been working hard to “tear off” Turkey from Russia, with mass media spearheading this effort.

According to the authors of one such publication recently carried by The Financial Times, and aptly titled “Idlib: Russia and Turkey are preparing for the final battle in Syria, such “battles” have already happened recently, and what is coming up now is a “Russian-Turkish Armageddon.”

“What happens in Idlib could determine the fate of  [Putin’s and Erdogan’s] marriage of convenience, one that has muddled its way through the war, but is now stretched to breaking point.”

The article claims that in Idlib the Russian-Turkish alliance is now breaking down as Ankara is trying to figure out if it could be better off cooperating with Washington, rather than with Moscow. The whole tonality of the article leaves no doubt as to which of the two options is the best way to go.

Indeed, Moscow and Ankara do not see entirely eye to eye on what Syria should look like after the war is over, with the main sticking point being the situation in Idlib and in the northeastern regions of the country controlled by the Kurdish militia.

While Russia is holding out for the earliest possible rout of the terrorists, mainly from the  Hayat Tahrir-al-Sham group, massed inside the Idlib Demilitarized Zone (IDZ), Turkey is generally happy about the existing status quo.

Firstly, even though mainly squeezed out by Hayat Tahrir-al-Sham to Turkish-controlled areas in Syria, some of Ankara’s proxies still remain in the IDZ. Secondly, Ankara fears that active hostilities could set off a new wave of refugees in addition to what Turkey has already taken in, that could fuel social unrest in the country. And, finally, practice shows that no police filters can reveal all the radicals among the incoming refugees, who could blame Ankara for “failing to protect them,” with dire consequences for both.

After negotiating with his Russian and Iranian colleagues in September 2018, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan pledged to ensure the creation of a buffer zone around the perimeter of the IDZ, to achieve the withdrawal of heavy armament from it before October 10, and of terrorist units – before October 15. Moreover, the Aleppo-Damascus road was to open before the end of 2018. Many Turkish experts still argued that these commitments were obviously impossible to meet. Time has proved them right.

After meeting with President Erdogan in January, President Putin was fully understanding about Ankara’s failure.

”Our Turkish colleagues are doing everything possible to implement the agreement. Of course, there are problems there, but we have agreed with our Turkish colleagues on what needs to be done in the near future,” Putin said. He also told a news conference that he had discussed with the Turkish leader “what additional steps Russia and Turkey could take to ensure stability in the Idlib region.”

A month later, the Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters that a military operation against terrorists was necessary, but it was not yet clear whether “Turkey or some other countries” would carry it out. Does this mean that Ankara has at least given a nod to such an operation? Well, this is quite possible, since Idlib is almost completely “lost” for Turkey’s proxy, and, by extension, for Turkey itself.  It also looks like the issue of creating “security zones” for potential refugees is now getting off the ground.

All this gave the well-known Turkish journalist Fehim Taştekin a reason to believe that Russia wants to “resolve the Idlib problem” not in spite of Turkey, but with it.

On March 9, Turkish Defense Minister Hulusi Akar, announced the start of joint patrols of the Idlib Demilitarized Zone with the Russian military. Moscow did not confirm the information, nor did it deny it either. On March 13, Russian warplanes pounded terrorist arsenals in a series of airstrikes, which Moscow said had been coordinated with the Turkish military. Turkey denied that any such coordination had actually taken place, apparently to avoid the terrorists’ wrath. A couple of weeks later, the very same Hulusi Akar said that Turkish and Russian military were setting up a “single coordination center in Idlib.”

Overall, stuttering as it may be, Russian-Turkish cooperation in Idlib remains on track, and no signs of a close “battle” are anywhere in sight.

Another loose end waiting to be tied up is the “Kurdish issue.” Russia believes that territories currently under the control of Kurdish units should be part of a unified Syria, while Ankara’s main concern is the possible emergence of a Kurdish state on its border (here the interests of Moscow and Ankara coincide). Turkey also wants to eliminate the likelihood of any threat coming from the Syrian Kurds’ main political party – the Democratic Union – which in Turkey is considered an offshoot of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, i.e. a terrorist organization. Here, as Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov noted, “We [Russia and Turkey] do not have a shared view on exactly who among the Kurds are to be considered as terrorists. Turkey has a special position. We understand their concern, but we still need to sift out ashes from cinders and see which of the Kurdish units are extremists and pose a security threat to the Turkish Republic.”

President Erdogan dismissed this statement as “incorrect.”

It hasn’t been long since Ankara planned to bring the Kurdish-populated regions of Syria under its control. “Times they are a-changing” though, and Turkey is changing with them. It is now speaking about the need to create a buffer zone (a “security zone” where refugees can stay) along its entire border with Syria, and, of course, on the Syrian side of that border.

Russia is ready to discuss the creation of temporary buffer zones, but, according to Sergei Lavrov, “taking into account the position of Damascus,” while simultaneously showing “maximum possible consideration for Turkey’s interests.”

During the trilateral Russian-Turkish-Iranian summit, President Vladimir Putin suggested that in its relations with Syria Ankara be governed by the terms of the 1988 Adana Agreement, whereby Syria recognized the Kurdistan Workers’ Party as a terrorist organization and banned its activities on its territory. This allowed the Turkish security forces, in their pursuit of PKK units, to stray into Syrian territory to a depth of 5 kilometers. The problem, however, is that Ankara does not officially recognize the Assad government, even though it maintains “low level” contacts with Damascus. Still, President Erdogan’s admission that “we view our future within the framework of the 1998 Adana Agreement,”  speaks for itself.

Meanwhile, more and more people in Turkey now realize the need to restore ties with Syria. According to Mehmet Ali Güller, the respected columnist for the daily newspaper Cumhuriyet, “the sooner the Ankara-Damascus dialogue … reaches the highest level, the closer the achievement of a political settlement will be.”

That being said, relations between Russia and Turkey are still short of being ideal, with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov’s visit to Turkey having twice been postponed by Ankara. The discussion of the Syrian issue was initially scheduled for March 12, then for March 18. Moreover, almost each time President Erdogan is due to meet his Russian and Iranian counterparts, he invariably mentions his close, partnership relations with Washington. This can be regarded as an attempt to “play both sides of the fence,” and a reflection of Ankara’s much-declared multi-vector foreign policy.

The ideology of Pan-Turkism, which was so popular during the 1990s, has since been put on the back burner as the Turkish political establishment is pursuing a three-pronged foreign policy combining the Islamic, Atlantic and Eurasian tracks. Turkey’s geopolitical position at the junction of different civilizations inevitably determines the country’s final choice as being existential, rather than political.

As for the Islamic vector, it leads nowhere, since neither Iran nor the Arab countries will ever recognize Turkey’s leadership, and Ankara will not agree to anything less.

A move towards embracing “Western democracies” would negate all previous activities of the Turkish leadership and the entire ideology of the Justice and Development Party, which has been governing the country for almost 17 years now. Moreover, Europe has already made it clear that the EU’s doors are closed for Turkey, and President Trump’s National Security Adviser John Bolton recently failed to give a direct answer when asked whether Turkey is a friend or enemy of the United States.

“Well, you know they’re still a NATO ally; we’re trying to work with them, but they’ve got a very bad relationship with our close friends in Israel. That’s something we need to look out on,” Bolton said, adding that disagreements “with respect to the conflict in Syria” were another issue.

This certainly does not sit well with Turkey’s political elite, which makes rumors about the “death” of the Russian-Turkish alliance look greatly exaggerated. Just as Fehim Taştekinput it, “the Astana project lives on, because Turkish-Russian interaction continues on the ground.”

 First published in our partner International Affairs

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Middle East

Process to draft Syria constitution begins this week

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The process of drafting a new constitution for Syria will begin this week, the UN Special Envoy for the country, Geir Pedersen, said on Sunday at a press conference in Geneva.

Mr. Pedersen was speaking following a meeting with the government and opposition co-chairs of the Syrian Constitutional Committee, who have agreed to start the process for constitutional reform.

The members of its so-called “small body”, tasked with preparing and drafting the Constitution, are in the Swiss city for their sixth round of talks in two years, which begin on Monday. 

Their last meeting, held in January, ended without progress, and the UN envoy has been negotiating between the parties on a way forward.

“The two Co-Chairs now agree that we will not only prepare for constitutional reform, but we will prepare and start drafting for constitutional reform,” Mr. Pedersen told journalists.

“So, the new thing this week is that we will actually be starting a drafting process for constitutional reform in Syria.”

The UN continues to support efforts towards a Syrian-owned and led political solution to end more than a decade of war that has killed upwards of 350,000 people and left 13 million in need of humanitarian aid.

An important contribution

The Syrian Constitutional Committee was formed in 2019, comprising 150 men and women, with the Government, the opposition and civil society each nominating 50 people.

This larger group established the 45-member small body, which consists of 15 representatives from each of the three sectors.

For the first time ever, committee co-chairs Ahmad Kuzbari, the Syrian government representative, and Hadi al-Bahra, from the opposition side, met together with Mr. Pedersen on Sunday morning. 

He described it as “a substantial and frank discussion on how we are to proceed with the constitutional reform and indeed in detail how we are planning for the week ahead of us.”

Mr. Pedersen told journalists that while the Syrian Constitutional Committee is an important contribution to the political process, “the committee in itself will not be able to solve the Syrian crisis, so we need to come together, with serious work, on the Constitutional Committee, but also address the other aspects of the Syrian crisis.”

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Middle East

North Africa: Is Algeria Weaponizing Airspace and Natural Gas?

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In a series of shocking and unintelligible decisions, the Algerian Government closed its airspace to Moroccan military and civilian aircraft on September 22, 2021, banned French military planes from using its airspace on October 3rd, and decided not to renew the contract relative to the Maghreb-Europe gas pipeline, which goes through Morocco and has been up and running since 1996–a contract that comes to end on October 31.

In the case of Morocco, Algeria advanced ‘provocations and hostile’ actions as a reason to shut airspace and end the pipeline contract, a claim that has yet to be substantiated with evidence. Whereas in the case of France, Algeria got angry regarding visa restrictions and comments by French President Emmanuel Macron on the Algerian military grip on power and whether the North African country was a nation prior to French colonization in 1830.

Tensions for decades

Algeria has had continued tensions with Morocco for decades, over border issues and over the Western Sahara, a territory claimed by Morocco as part of its historical territorial unity, but contested by Algeria which supports an alleged liberation movement that desperately fights for independence since the 1970s.

With France, the relation is even more complex and plagued with memories of colonial exactions and liberation and post-colonial traumas, passions and injuries. France and Algeria have therefore developed, over the post-independence decades, a love-hate attitude that quite often mars otherwise strong economic and social relations.

Algeria has often reacted to the two countries’ alleged ‘misbehavior’ by closing borders –as is the case with Morocco since 1994—or calling its ambassadors for consultations, or even cutting diplomatic relations, as just happened in August when it cut ties with its western neighbor.

But it is the first-time Algeria resorts to the weaponization of energy and airspace. “Weaponization” is a term used in geostrategy to mean the use of goods and commodities, that are mainly destined for civilian use and are beneficial for international trade and the welfare of nations, for geostrategic, political and even military gains. As such “weaponization” is contrary to the spirit of free trade, open borders, and solidarity among nations, values that are at the core of common international action and positive globalization.

What happened?

Some observers advance continued domestic political and social unrest in Algeria, whereby thousands of Algerians have been taking to the streets for years to demand regime-change and profound political and economic reforms. Instead of positively responding to the demands of Algerians, the government is probably looking for desperate ways to divert attention and cerate foreign enemies as sources of domestic woes. Morocco and France qualify perfectly for the role of national scapegoats.

It may be true also that in the case of Morocco, Algeria is getting nervous at its seeing its Western neighbor become a main trade and investment partner in Africa, a role it can levy to develop diplomatic clout regarding the Western Sahara issue. Algeria has been looking for ways to curb Morocco’s growing influence in Africa for years. A pro-Algerian German expert, by the name of Isabelle Werenfels, a senior fellow in the German Institute for International and Security Affairs, even recommended to the EU to put a halt to Morocco’s pace and economic clout so that Algeria could catch up. Weaponization may be a desperate attempt to hurt the Moroccan economy and curb its dynamism, especially in Africa.

The impact of Algeria’s weaponization of energy and airspace on the Moroccan economy is minimal and on French military presence in Mali is close to insignificant; however, it shows how far a country that has failed to administer the right reforms and to transfer power to democratically elected civilians can go.

In a region, that is beleaguered by threats and challenges of terrorism, organized crime, youth bulge, illegal migration and climate change, you would expect countries like Algeria, with its geographic extension and oil wealth, to be a beacon of peace and cooperation. Weaponization in international relations is inacceptable as it reminds us of an age when bullying and blackmail between nations, was the norm. The people of the two countries, which share the same history, language and ethnic fabric, will need natural gas and unrestricted travel to prosper and grow and overcome adversity; using energy and airspace as weapons is at odds with the dreams of millions of young people in Algeria and Morocco that aspire for a brighter future in an otherwise gloomy economic landscape. Please don’t shatter those dreams!

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Middle East

Breaking The Line of the Israel-Palestine Conflict

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The conflict between Israel-Palestine is a prolonged conflict and has become a major problem, especially in the Middle East region.

A series of ceasefires and peace negotiations between Israel and Palestine that occurred repeatedly did not really “normalize” the relationship between the two parties.

In order to end the conflict, a number of parties consider that the two-state solution is the best approach to create two independent and coexistent states. Although a number of other parties disagreed with the proposal, and instead proposed a one-state solution, combining Israel, the West Bank, and the Gaza Strip into one big state.

Throughout the period of stalemate reaching an ideal solution, the construction and expansion of settlements carried out illegally by Israel in the Palestinian territories, especially the West Bank and East Jerusalem, also continued without stopping and actually made the prospect of resolving the Israeli-Palestinian crisis increasingly eroded, and this could jeopardize any solutions.

The attempted forced eviction in the Sheikh Jarrah district, which became one of the sources of the conflict in May 2021, for example, is an example of how Israel has designed a system to be able to change the demographics of its territory by continuing to annex or “occupy” extensively in the East Jerusalem area. This is also done in other areas, including the West Bank.

In fact, Israel’s “occupation” of the eastern part of Jerusalem which began at the end of the 1967 war, is an act that has never received international recognition.

This is also confirmed in a number of resolutions issued by the UN Security Council Numbers 242, 252, 267, 298, 476, 478, 672, 681, 692, 726, 799, 2334 and also United Nations General Assembly Resolutions Number 2253, 55/130, 60/104, 70/89, 71/96, A/72/L.11 and A/ES-10/L.22 and supported by the Advisory Opinion issued by the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in 2004 on Legal Consequences of The Construction of A Wall in The Occupied Palestine Territory which states that East Jerusalem is part of the Palestinian territories under Israeli “occupation”.

1 or 2 country solution

Back to the issue of the two-state solution or the one-state solution that the author mentioned earlier. The author considers that the one-state solution does not seem to be the right choice.

Facts on the ground show how Israel has implemented a policy of “apartheid” that is so harsh against Palestinians. so that the one-state solution will further legitimize the policy and make Israel more dominant. In addition, there is another consideration that cannot be ignored that Israel and Palestine are 2 parties with very different and conflicting political and cultural identities that are difficult to reconcile.

Meanwhile, the idea of ​​a two-state solution is an idea that is also difficult to implement. Because the idea still seems too abstract, especially on one thing that is very fundamental and becomes the core of the Israel-Palestine conflict, namely the “division” of territory between Israel and Palestine.

This is also what makes it difficult for Israel-Palestine to be able to break the line of conflict between them and repeatedly put them back into the status quo which is not a solution to the Israel-Palestine conflict.

The status quo, is in fact a way for Israel to continue to “annex” more Palestinian territories by establishing widespread and systematic illegal settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem. Today, more than 600,000 Israeli settlers now live in the West Bank and East Jerusalem.

In fact, a number of resolutions issued by the UN Security Council have explicitly and explicitly called for Israel to end the expansion of Israeli settlement construction in the occupied territory and require recognition of the sovereignty, territorial integrity and political independence of the region.

Thus, all efforts and actions of Israel both legislatively and administratively that can cause changes in the status and demographic composition in East Jerusalem and the West Bank must continue to be condemned. Because this is a violation of the provisions of international law.

Fundamental thing

To find a solution to the conflict, it is necessary to look back at the core of the conflict that the author has mentioned earlier, and the best way to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is to encourage Israel to immediately end the “occupation” that it began in 1967, and return the settlements to the pre-Islamic borders 1967 In accordance with UN Security Council resolution No. 242.

But the question is, who can stop the illegal Israeli settlements in the East Jerusalem and West Bank areas that violate the Palestinian territories?

In this condition, international political will is needed from countries in the world, to continue to urge Israel to comply with the provisions of international law, international humanitarian law, international human rights law and also the UN Security Council Resolutions.

At the same time, the international community must be able to encourage the United Nations, especially the United Nations Security Council, as the organ that has the main responsibility for maintaining and creating world peace and security based on Article 24 of the United Nations Charter to take constructive and effective steps in order to enforce all United Nations Resolutions, and dare to sanction violations committed by Israel, and also ensure that Palestinian rights are important to protect.

So, do not let this weak enforcement of international law become an external factor that also “perpetuates” the cycle of the Israel-Palestine conflict. It will demonstrate that John Austin was correct when he stated that international law is only positive morality and not real law.

And in the end, the most fundamental thing is that the blockade, illegal development, violence, and violations of international law must end. Because the ceasefire in the Israel-Palestine conflict is only a temporary solution to the conflict.

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