Weakened US sanctions threat lingers in wake of Turkish deal with Russia

Two weeks after Turkey launched Operation Peace Spring in northeast Syria to expel Kurdish militants from its southern border and establish a so-called safe zone, fighting has largely ended as result of an agreement reached by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Russian President Vladimir Putin on Tuesday.

Meeting in Sochi, the two leaders agreed to deploy their forces across most of the northeastern Syrian border and conduct joint patrols along a corridor 10 kilometers (6 miles) deep, while Kurdish-led forces supported by the United States have withdrawn from an area 30 kilometers (19 miles) deep. Meanwhile, the Operation Peace Spring area between the Syrian towns of Tell Abyad and Ras al-Ain will remain under the control of the Turkish military and Turkish-backed Syrian forces.

The Syrian regime stated Wednesday it would establish 15 observation posts in the region. Turkish officials will seek to reestablish terms set by the 1998 Adana agreement between Ankara and Damascus in which Turkish forces would be able to carry out security operations within a 5-kilometer (3-mile) band along the Syrian border.

“Adana more or less gives Turkey what it wants … [which is] to break the US-SDF agreement,” said Aaron Stein, director of the Middle East program at the Foreign Policy Research Institute, using the acronym for the US-backed, Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces, which Ankara considers a security threat.

“But the political cost of doing that was to de facto recognize [President] Bashar al-Assad,” Stein continued. “Now Turkey has been resisting this, albeit while engaging with the regime’s two principal allies, Russia and Iran. This just brings Turkey more squarely into the camp that the regime is the arbiter of security along its border.”

The developments come after US President Donald Trump removed about 1,000 US troops stationed in the region, greenlighting the Turkish operation with aims to disentangle Washington from the Syrian conflict, where American forces have coordinated operations to eradicate Islamic State militants since 2014. Prior to Erdogan’s agreement with Putin, US officials had secured a five-day cease-fire in northeast Syria during an Oct. 17 visit to Ankara.

Speaking on Wednesday morning, Trump said Turkish officials had informed him the cease-fire would be “permanent” and that he would lift economic sanctions in response.

“This was an outcome created by us,” Trump told reporters in a press conference.

Yet as Russian and Syrian regime forces take control of border areas not held by Turkish forces, the imposition of previously threatened US sanctions on Turkey looms large in Washington, where officials continue to debate a response to fast-developing dynamics in northeast Syria.

Read the full story on Al Monitor.