On Wednesday 7 August, after three days of talks with the US, Turkey’s defence ministry announced that a ‘Joint Action Centre’ would be set up in Turkey to implement a so-called ‘safe zone’ along the Syrian border. This agreement was wrung out of the US by Turkey only after months of wrangling, punctuated by shrill Turkish threats of imminent all-out military action unless the US acted to contain the Kurdish militias.
The US is desperate to keep its Kurdish rent-an-army, the ill-named Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), in occupation of Syria’s oil-rich north-east, so that, under the guise of ‘self rule’, imperialist plunder of Syria’s oil fields and facilities may continue unimpeded.
This plunder is systematic and extensive, as explained in detail recently by Russian top brass Colonel-General Sergei Rudskoi. He told journalists: “Aside from training militants, the US structures in Syria are involved in plundering oil facilities and deposits in the area across the Euphrates that belong to the legitimate Syrian government. Lately, US private military companies have been observed to actively beef up their personnel. Today, the mercenaries of the private military companies in Syria exceed 3,500 people” (‘US private military companies plunder Syrian oil facilities’, TASS, 29 July 2019).
These figures suggest that the vaunted withdrawal of US troops is easily compensated for by the explosion in the number of imperialist mercenaries.
Rudskoi went on to highlight the situation in Syria’s Conaco, al-Omar and Tanak oilfields in the north-east where a “criminal scheme of Syrian crude cross-border deliveries is in effect”, draining the country’s mineral wealth. What’s more, all this is going on “under the cover of the international anti-terror coalition’s aviation. In actual fact, this is smuggling business seized by the Americans from the IS.”
Particularly revealing is the part played in this racket by the US training camps around the US garrison at al-Tanf. According to Rudskoi,“Within the 55-km zone around al-Tanf, US instructors are training a large armed formation, Magavir al-Saura, and some small militant groups for the so-called Army of Arab Tribes. The militants’ total numerical strength is 2,700 men.” And guess where some of these trainees are airlifted to, care of US choppers? East of the Euphrates, to help facilitate the plunder. Other groups of trained saboteurs are dropped behind government lines to wreak what havoc they may.
Meanwhile the Kurdish SDF continue to serve as guard dogs for US imperialism in the region. As Rudskoi explains, imperialism is equally happy making use of Kurdish nationalists or islamist jihadis, just so long as the plunder can go on. “In exchange for assistance in oil smuggling, the United States is beefing up both Kurdish and Arab formations with arms, and they subsequently use them against each other.”
Here though there is a fly in the imperialist ointment. Washington’s problem is that its fellow NATO member and (sometime) ally Ankara would rather risk invading the Kurdish-occupied area than suffer the permanent presence of Kurdish militias on its border. Such an invasion would threaten to bring US-backed forces into open conflict with Turkish troops, not a welcome prospect for NATO, to which both the US and Turkey belong.
Ankara has of late been issuing ever more blood-curdling threats that it will act unilaterally unless the US makes good on its promise to establish a so-called ‘safe zone’ in cahoots with Turkey, a zone designed to push the Kurdish militias away from the border. The US hopes now that by agreeing such a deal with Turkey, the latter can be persuaded to let the SDF in the north-east hinterland continue to play the ‘self-rule’ game, thereby acting as proxies for imperialism.
It is not yet clear how the 7 August agreement will pan out on both sides, nor how the Kurds themselves will take to the idea of joint US-Turkish patrols along the border. There have been mixed messages from within the Kurdish camp, with some favouring rapprochement with the government in Damascus. Such sentiments might be reinforced by the sight of the Kurds’ supposed American saviours cutting deals with a Turkey that has long acted as the Kurds’ sworn enemy. Under these circumstances, some might be expected to prefer to be citizens of a united and victorious Syria than pawns in a losing colonial game.
Damascus has not been slow to point out that neither Turkey not the USA has been invited to intervene militarily and by doing so uninvited they stand in clear violation of Syria’s sovereignty. Any deal the US and Turkey may concoct is therefore written in the sand and will in due course be washed away in the flood tide of national liberation.
Astana talks in Nur-Sultan
Less than a week prior to the announced US-Turkish deal, Turkey (along with Russia and Iran) signed up to a statement at the conclusion of the thirteenth round of Astana talks, held on 1 and 2 August in Kazakhstan.
These talks, overseen by Russia, Turkey and Iran, brought together representatives of the Syrian government and of the ‘armed opposition’. Also present as observers were representatives from the UN, Jordan, Lebanon and Iraq. The concluding statement affirmed, among other things, that all three countries, joint guarantors of the Astana political process, “rejected all attempts at creating new realities on the ground under the pretext of combating terrorism, including illegitimate self-rule initiatives, and expressed their determination to stand against separatist agendas aimed at undermining the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Syria as well as threatening the national security of neighbouring countries” (‘Russia, Iran, Turkey welcome Syrian Constitutional Committee progress’, TASS, 2 August 2019).
This is a knife that cuts both ways. Whilst Turkey, as a ‘neighbouring country’ facing a supposed threat to ‘national security’, is happy to denounce ‘separatist agendas’ as relates to the Kurds, it can hardly claim to be respecting Syria’s sovereignty by haggling with the US over who gets squatters’ rights in the north-east of the country. Turkey’s side-deal with the US throws into doubt the depth of Turkey’s commitment to the Astana process, which has made diplomatic headway precisely thanks to the absence of US manipulation. Having itself suffered the consequences of acting as a pawn of US imperialism, Turkey would be well advised to take seriously the commitments it reaffirmed just a few days earlier at Nur-Sultan.
The aspect of the Astana talks which drew most attention at the time was the agreement to get on and implement the conditional ceasefire deal that was reached in Sochi back in September last year. Under this deal agreed between Russia and Turkey, a demilitarised zone (DMZ) was to be set up in the north-west province of Idlib jointly policed by the two countries.
Idlib, home to some 3 million Syrians, has over the years functioned as the destination of last resort for every brand of terrorist riffraff driven from elsewhere in the country. Under the Sochi agreement, pledged anew at Nur-Sultan, Turkey promised to use its influence amongst the supposedly more ‘moderate’ fighters to persuade them to sever connections with the more extreme al-Nusra (now rebranded as HTS) terrorists and agree to withdraw twenty kilometres from the DMZ and to pull their heavy weaponry back from the front line. In practice Turkey proved unable or unwilling to persuade its protégés to break with al-Nusra, either because it overestimated the scope of its own influence with these gangs or because it still hoped to promote ‘separatist’, ‘self-rule’ plans of its own, plans which would require for their execution the continued maintenance of an armed ‘opposition’.
Whatever Turkey’s motivation, what actually happened was that al-Nusra, so far from being left out in the cold, took the opportunity to rally the myriad disparate terror gangs into a concerted attack formation at the end of April and launched an offensive southward into Hama governorate. The Syrian Arab Army, backed up by Russian air cover, fought this terrorist offensive to a standstill over the succeeding three months, sacrificing many patriotic soldiers in the effort to protect the civilian population from terrorist massacre.
Included in the international Astana talks in Kazakhstan was a delegation of the so-called ‘armed opposition’, led by Ahmad Toma. He regaled a press conference in the renamed capital, Nur-Sultan, with his upside-down view of reality, claiming that “We withdrew the heavy weapons following the Sochi agreement, but the regime violated it and took advantage so they can launch their cunning and criminal attack”. Clearly feeling the heat from the advance of the liberation forces, however, he went on to grab the new offer of a ceasefire, with what degree of sincerity readers must judge for themselves, pledging: “If the regime commits to the ceasefire, we will commit to it from our end.” Having found its aggressive expansion checked by the Syrian army and Russian airforce, the ‘armed opposition’ once more warms to the idea of a ceasefire – but naturally for one side only.
The ceasefire, the aspect of the Astana talks which was greeted with the most fanfare, looks to be a sickly child at best. HTS was quick to repudiate the ceasefire, refusing to retreat from the front lines. Terrorist attacks at once resumed, and on 5 August the Syrian army announced that it was obliged to resume military operations in the Idlib area, blaming Turkey for its failure to abide by its commitments under the truce deal. The army source explained, “The agreement to a truce was conditional… This did not happen… We resume our military operations against terrorist organizations” (‘Syrian army resumes bombardment in rebel-held Idlib’, al Jazeera, 5 August 2019).
In fact, the statement jointly issued at the end of the Astana talks by Russia, Turkey and Iran (the three guarantor states of the Astana process) specifically vowed to “continue cooperation in order to ultimately eliminate DAESH/ISIL, al-Nusra front and all other individuals, groups, undertakings and entities associated with al-Qaeda or DAESH/ISIL, and other terrorist groups, as designated by the UN Security Council” (‘Russia, Iran, Turkey welcome Syrian Constitutional Committee progress’, TASS, 2 August 2019).
The Syrian Arab Army will continue its fight to liberate the country from all the above-mentioned scoundrels, and in so doing is standing up for international law.
Victory to the Syrian President, Government, Army and People!