Is Russia extorting SDF in northeast Syria?

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Mar 1, 2021

ALEPPO, Syria — The Turkish military and Russian forces’ current navy strikes have raised the considerations of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) in Hasakah and Raqqa in northeastern Syria. 

The SDF is involved about falling sufferer to a doable deal between Russia and Turkey after the 15th spherical of the Astana negotiations held within the Russian metropolis of Sochi on Feb. 16-17, within the presence of representatives of the three guarantors of the cease-fire in Syria — Russia, Turkey and Iran — and with the participation of two delegations from the Syrian military and opposition.

On Feb. 21, Russian forces retreated from their base in Ain Issa in northern Raqqa, which is beneath SDF management, and moved to their navy base in Tel al-Saman, 22 kilometers (14 miles) to the southeast of Ain Issa. But the Russian forces returned Feb. 22 to their areas in Ain Issa, which Turkey is threatening to assault via its allied the Free Syrian Army (FSA) factions. The Russian forces additionally partially withdrew from their navy base in Tel Tamr within the countryside of Hasakah, earlier than shortly returning to it.

A media activist from Ain Aissa, talking on situation of anonymity for safety functions, advised Al-Monitor, “The temporary retreat of the Russian forces from their bases in Ain Issa in northern Raqqa and Tel Tamr in Hasakah countryside stems from the SDF’s violation of the Russian orders to de-escalate the situation on the fronts with the Turkish army and the FSA as clashes and shelling continued on several axes. This may be the most common justification [for the Russian withdrawal], but I think the reasons behind the retreat from the bases and the subsequent return to them is more complicated. Russia is trying to extort the SDF and pressure it through these military moves.”

Istanbul-based navy analyst Ahmed Mohammed Hamada advised Al-Monitor, “The retreat of the Russian forces seemed to be a mere formality since their military positions and bases remained in place, along with the Russian soldiers inside. Russia is trying to extort the SDF by threatening to leave the Ain Issa front open to Turkish threats if the SDF does not respond to Russian pressure and resolve the Ain Issa issue once and for all. Russia wants the Syrian regime to control the area completely. If the SDF insists on its stance to refuse the regime’s control, the Russian military forces will escalate in the region, and the retreat operations might recur more widely in the coming phase. Turkey would in turn make military moves to pressure the SDF and perhaps to wage a battle against it.”

Mostafa Bakkour, a navy researcher and analyst residing in Idlib in northwest Syria, advised Al-Monitor, “History has shown that Russians and Turks implement the results of the Astana negotiations on the ground immediately after the talks’ conclusion, without announcing the agreements reached.”

Bakkour added, “I think what is happening falls in the framework of a Russian-Turkish agreement to undermine the SDF in the region, especially after the Russian-brokered negotiations between the SDF and the Syrian regime failed. It is noteworthy that the US forces brought in new military hardware into the SDF-controlled areas in northeast Syria, including air defense missiles. This portends that the situation will become more complex in the coming phase.”

Russian and Turkish forces in Hasakah reached in mid-February an settlement to move grains from the Sharkrak silos to Syrian regime-controlled areas. The Russian Rusvesna web site stated Feb. 18 {that a} group of Russian forces in Hasakah brokered an settlement between the Syrian authorities and Turkey to move a part of the grain reserves from these silos to the regime-controlled areas in Aleppo.

The Turkish Defense Ministry revealed a video Feb. 19 exhibiting dozens of vans lined up in entrance of silos and being loaded with grains. The ministry stated in a tweet, “The step was taken in agreement with Russia.”

The newest Russian navy strikes within the SDF-controlled areas in northeast Syria appear to purpose at reaching some beneficial properties, primarily settling the Ain Issa problem and conserving the SDF away from the M4 worldwide freeway, dispelling Turkey’s fears by conserving the SDF away from the strategic space and facilitating commerce motion between northeast Syria and Aleppo. These endeavors are a part of Russian efforts to revive the Syrian regime’s collapsing economic system. Russia’s presumed extortion of the SDF goals at pressuring it into halting its siege of Syrian regime areas in Hasakah and Qamishli. Russia additionally desires to push the SDF to proceed supplying the regime with oil and seeks to revive the economic system of the regime or assist it survive at the very least till the presidential elections which can be to happen in a couple of months.

Russia has taken benefit of the troubled state of affairs within the SDF-controlled areas in northeastern Syria to increase and cement its presence, particularly in oil-rich Hasakah. Russian forces turned the Qamishli airport right into a navy base. The present Russian navy strikes can’t be taken out of the overall context in northern Syria, amid the growing competitors between Turkey, Russia and the United States to verify their presence and entrench their affect in crucial and complicated Syrian areas.