What happened: Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has accepted an invitation from Russian President Vladimir Putin to visit Moscow, according to the Kremlin. The invitation is part of Russia’s bid to become the key power broker in the region, with Russian and Syrian forces yesterday moving into the border town of Kobane, following a deal brokered by Russia between the Syrian regime and the Kurdish-dominated Syrian Democratic Forces.
- Russian forces are deploying in Syria in an effort to separate Turkish and Syrian regime forces. They are deploying in Kobane as well as in and around Manbij.
- The US House of Representatives yesterday voted 354-60 to condemn the US withdrawal from northern Syria, in a non-binding resolution.
- President Donald Trump insisted his decision to withdraw was “strategically brilliant” and declaring that the Kurds were “much safer now”.
- A letter emerged from Trump to Erdogan in which he warned Erdogan ‘Don’t be a fool.’ The letter was dated 9 October, the day Turkey launched its invasion of Syria.
Context: Both Russian and US forces have been active in Kobane in recent days. The US forces as part of their evacuation, the Russian forces to fill the void left by the American withdrawal. The US have been present at a hilltop base overlooking Kobane.
- Russia has long-aimed to be the power broker in Syria but this was limited by the US role east of the Euphrates, where American forces were responsible for supporting the Kurds in the fight against ISIS, and acting as a buffer between the Kurds and Turkey.
- News of Moscow’s invitation to Erdogan came as the Turkish President told reporters he would not be meeting US Vice-President Mike Pence and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who are visiting Turkey. This statement was, however, retracted shortly afterwards.
Looking ahead: Although Pence is hoping to broker a ceasefire there is little chance of anything significant being agreed. Erdogan has expressed his frustration with US policy. From his perspective Trump greenlighted the invasion and then imposed sanctions. He said Turkey “cannot keep track” of Trump’s contradictory statements.
- The Putin-Erdogan meeting is expected to be more substantive given Russia’s role as a key ally of the Assad regime and the Iranians. He is in a better position to forge a deal between Erdogan’s objectives against the Kurds and Assad’s goal to take more territory for the regime.
- Erdogan’s scheduled visit to Washington on 13 November will also be fascinating if less substantive, assuming it goes ahead.