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By John Helmer, Moscow

It doesn’t suit any of the sides in the US presidential campaign to acknowledge that the terms President Vladimir Putin agreed this week for the Turkish invasion and occupation of northern Syria to become permanent are not those which Russia’s Defence Ministry, General Staff, Foreign Ministry and Foreign Intelligence Service proposed instead.

That’s too complex a point in the American political contest between President Donald Trump, his supporters and opponents. So complex, in fact, that Trump is gaining nothing in domestic job approval rating in the polls, as he intended his Syrian “troop withdrawal” and “save the oil” moves to achieve

This is also too fine a point for the alternative media to concede  in their competition for audience (and money) with the mainstream media. Both of them share the idea that Putin is the dominant decision-maker in Moscow. To alt-media writers and publishers, that’s a good thing; to the mainstream media that’s a bad thing, a very bad thing. The truth of the matter – the Russian political fact of the matter – is beside the point to both. American exceptionalists being what they are, rightwing imperialists and leftwing imperialists, Holocaust and climate warming deniers included, there is no room in the present American discourse for the facts on the ground. On the ground in Syria, or on the ground in Moscow.

The big fact on the ground that’s being missed in North America is that Putin has agreed to another Turkish invasion of a neighbouring country. This was not Kremlin policy at the time of the Turkish invasion of Cyprus in 1974. It wasn’t Kremlin policy last September when Putin and President Recep Tayyip Erdogan agreed on terms for the temporary protectorate of Idlib.    In the run-up to the negotiations in Sochi on Tuesday (October 22), this was not the Russian policy consensus toward the Turkish invasion of northern Syria, nor toward the options for driving the Turks back where they belong.

Half-measures are what turned out. In Russian strategy and politics, the outcome could have been worse, so half-measures seem to be better than pushing Erdogan back towards the US and NATO, as Russians believe to be his genuine preference.

In American presidential politics, the outcome in Sochi could hardly, ironically,  have been better. To Trump’s critics and the war party in Washington, Trump has been shown up to be out-smarted and weak in the face of Putin’s initiative. To Trump’s supporters and the anti-war party, Putin and Erdogan have made a better agreement towards ending the war in Syria than the one Vice President Mike Pence and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo signed the week before.

This is confusing. It’s also temporary.

In the Russian-Turkish agreement of last September 18, Putin and Erdogan agreed to “ensuring free movement of local residents and goods and restoring trade and economic relations” in and out of Idlib city and the Idlib governorate.  They also agreed that the reason for Turkish and Russian “observation posts” and “coordinated patrols” around Idlib was the removal of “radical terrorist groups” and their weapons. That’s to say, Turkish-supported groups and Turkish, US, Saudi and Emirati supplied weapons.

The September 18, 2018, agreement also required that “transit traffic on the routes M4 (Aleppo-Latakia) and M5 (Aleppo-Hama) will be restored by the end of 2018.”

That these terms of agreement haven’t materialized after more than a year is, according to the Russian assessment and official statements, the responsibility of the Turks. Make that – the culpability of Erdogan.

Now look at the map of northern Syria, including Idlib and the two new Turkish occupation zones, the Tel Abiad and the Ras Al-Ain zones, which is the outcome agreed between Putin and Erdogan this week. These are now permanent additions to the Turkish occupied areas already established to the west, but not – until now – accepted by the Kremlin as permanent.

Click on image to enlarge
KEY: Brown=Idlib zone occupied by Turkish forces and Syrian opposition;  dark blue=Turkish occupation zone prior to October 9; light blue=Turkish occupation zone after Sochi Agreement of October 22; green triangles=Syrian Army posts along the old Turkish frontier; dot-dash line=withdrawal line for Kurdish forces; dash-line=Syrian-Russian military patrol line; blue semi-circle in southeast=Al-Tanf zone occupied by US and Syrian opposition forces.

For extra reference, re-read Point 4 of this week’s pact.   “Both sides reaffirm the importance of the Adana Agreement. The Russian Federation will facilitate the implementation of the Adana Agreement in the current circumstances.” To understand what the Russians have agreed to, on behalf of the Syrian Government in Damascus, here’s the text of the Adana Agreement of 1998.   Read carefully — it’s obvious the terms were dictated at gunpoint by the Turks, then under President Suleiman Demirel.

From a Syrian and Russian point of view, the Adana terms amount to an agreement to prevent Kurdish operations against Turkey from being based, armed, trained or launched from Syrian territory.  There is no accompanying Turkish undertaking not to enter Syrian territory in pursuit of the Kurds, but that was the implication at the time. That’s to say, hot pursuit for a limited distance and for a short period of time.

In retrospect, it is easy to see what the Russian side now means by the wording of Point 4 of the new Sochi agreement: “The Russian Federation will facilitate the implementation of the Adana Agreement in the current circumstances.” In other words, no change — hot pursuit for a limited distance and for a short period of time; in the meantime, no Syrian bases for Kurdish fighters against Turkey.

The Turkish interpretation of the Adana points is quite different — and this is what makes the  agreement Putin has settled with Erdogan strategically significant. The new Russian deal extends Turkish military operations in Syria from hot pursuit to occupation and ethnic cleansing. No amount of crocodile tears in the mainstream media, nor breast-beating in the alt-media should misinterpret and mistake this point.

Ordinary Russians aren’t making this mistake. In a poll released yesterday by the independent Levada Centre, a nationwide sample said they trust the Army more than the President – by three percentage points.   Since 2009 popular trust in the Army has almost doubled; trust in Putin has remained the same. The strongest distrust recorded in the new poll was expressed, in order of magnitude, to large Russian businesses, the State Duma, small and medium-sized business, the banks, and the state media.

 Source:  https://www.levada.ru/

Listen to today’s Gorilla Radio discussion starting at Minute 32.

Gorilla Radio is broadcast every Thursday on CFUV 101.9 FM from the University of Victoria, British Columbia, Canada.  The radio station can be heard here.   The Gorilla Radio transcripts are also published by the Pacific Free Press and on the blog.  For Chris Cook’s broadcast archive, click to open.   


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