Russia and Turkey, who both support different warring sides in Syria, are meeting in the Kazakhstan capital of Astana. Russian envoy says that an agreement on the fourth de-escalation zone in Syria’s Idlib province is ‘very close’.
Russia, Turkey and Iran, the three guarantors of the Astana peace talks, met for another round of talks which will last for two days.
Russia’s envoy for Syria, Alexander Lavrentyev, said on Thursday that an agreement was “very close” on establishing a fourth safe zone in Idlib.
“We are very close to signing an agreement on all these four de-escalation zones,” he told journalists.
Representatives of the Syrian regime and opposition, the United Nations and observers from the United States and Jordan are also attending the talks.
Meeting begins amid conflicting interests
The talks come hot on the heels of a Russian move to deploy troops in the northern Syrian town of Tel Rifat that prevented a possible Turkish operation against YPG militants.
In December 2016, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Russian President Vladimir Putin agreed to suggest Astana, the capital of Kazakhstan, as a new venue to carry on the Syrian peace talks.
The first round of the negotiations began in January 2017, and the sides are meeting in the sixth round.
The focus in Astana was to provide security for civilians by creating de-escalation zones, a plan Turkey had long insisted on.
In May, Russia, Turkey and Iran agreed to establish four de-escalation zones at the fourth round of talks with the largest one of those being the Idlib province.
In three of the agreed zones, hostilities were drastically reduced with the assistance Russia, Iran, Egypt, the US and Jordan, in separate places.
Nearly three months after the agreement, Jabhat Fatah Al Sham, an Al Qaeda-linked group, took control in Idlib and the plan failed to be implemented there.
Sources from the delegation representing Syrian opposition forces, which are also taking part in the talks, say that the first topic on the agenda would be creating a de-escalation zone in Idlib province.
“The main focus will be a solution in Idlib,” the opposition source told TRT World.
However, the talks begin at a time that Turkey and Russia are in disagreement in northern Syria, where YPG activities “threatens Turkey’s border security,” according to Turkish officials.
Turkey says that the YPG is simply a Syrian extension of the PKK, designated a terrorist organisation, that has waged an armed campaign in Turkey for the past 30 years.
Ankara reportedly had a plan to conduct a military operation in east Afrin, the second in Syria after Operation Euphrates Shield last year.
Turkish security sources said the operation had multiple aims, including preventing the YPG movements and making a supply line from Turkish border for Free Syrian Army forces in Idlib, where Turkey and Russia were going to conduct a joint operation and create a buffer zone.
The Idlib operation was postponed after Jabhat Fatah al Sham took control and Turkey deployed its forces next to YPG territory. However, Russia prevented any Turkish operation against the YPG by stationing its soldiers between Turkey and YPG, creating a buffer zone.
All these developments beg the question of “would Astana talks bring any solution to Idlib and later contribute a nationwide peace in Syria?”
Delegations from Russia, Turkey and Iran met in a working meeting ahead of the Astana talks with all sides hopeful for a solution, but there are serious concerns as all side follow different agendas in Syria.