Ankara: As Turkey’s Afrin operation nears its end and Russia continues to strike deals with various groups in remaining opposition and rebel pockets in Syria, the presidents of Turkey, Russia and Iran are holding a summit meeting in Ankara on Wednesday as part of the latest talks on Syria’s future.
The April 4 talks bring together Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin, and President Hassan Rouhani of Iran. They are the latest high-level talks the heads of the three countries have held, and follow preparatory talks their foreign ministers recently had in the Kazak capital Astana. The three presidents first met to discuss the future of Syria on November 22 in Sochi.
In addition to discussions regarding the de-escalation zones, eastern Ghouta and Afrin, as laid out in the previous talks, zones of influence and the political future of the country are likely to be on the agenda.
The meeting comes at a difficult time for Russia, which is under intense international scrutiny following an alleged chemical attack in the UK against Russian former double agent Sergei Skripal and his daughter.
The US, UK and several other EU countries have expelled dozens of Russian diplomats from their countries following the events.
While Turkey has maintained its close relations with Russia during this period, they continue to have significant disagreements regarding the future of Syria.
A federal vs unitary Syria
One of the main items on the agenda will be the political system of Syria after the war, an issue over which there are significant disagreements among the actors.
Turkey supports unity and territorial integrity of Syria, and is opposed to proposed federal systems or autonomous regions, particularly those that would lend the YPG any semblance of self-rule.
The YPG is the Syrian branch of the PKK, designated a terror organisation by Turkey, the US and EU. It has been fighting the Turkish state for several decades, and Turkey considers an autonomous YPG-held territory a threat to its own territorial integrity. Meanwhile, Russia has played a delicate balancing game with the YPG/PKK as part of its overall Syria strategy, accepts it as a legitimate actor and maintains its support for a federal system.
Turkey has rejected Russia’s attempts to include the YPG/PKK in political talks regarding Syria, though Russia continues to push for its inclusion.
Russian foreign minister Lavrov said on Thursday, “We strongly believe that not a single conflict in areas where Kurds live can be settled without the Kurdish people.”
A senior Russian diplomat told TRT World that Moscow still believes a federal system might be possible in Syria’s future “if the Syrian people agree with that kind of a governing system.”