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Northern Syria targeted by Astana: new round of talks

Greater Middle East (, - Traditional negotiations in the Astana format this time took place under the sign of increased tension in northern Syria. On the one hand, after air strikes on Kurdish positions, Turkey threatens to launch the ground part of the military operation, but retains room for maneuver, allowing other participants in the format to stop it. On the other hand, Russia is working hard to maintain the status quo and is trying to prevent a new round of escalation.

On November 23, the 19th round of consultations in the Astana format on Syria ended. The meeting was attended by delegations of the guarantor countries of the process (Russia, Turkey, Iran), representatives of the Syrian government and opposition, as well as the UN.

In the final statement, the participants traditionally reaffirmed the sovereignty, independence, unity and territorial integrity of Syria. Once again, we emphasized the leading role of the Astana process in ensuring a sustainable settlement of the Syrian crisis. Thesis was especially noted by two delegations - the Russian and the Syrian.

According to Alexander Lavrentiev, Russian presidential envoy for Syria, Moscow attaches paramount importance to the Astana format.

“On the sidelines of this forum yesterday, and today, too, a large number of very detailed consultations, meetings, conversations took place - with the Turkish, Iranian delegations, with the Syrian parties represented by the opposition and the government, and very interesting meetings were also held with observers from Jordan, Iraq and Lebanon. Separately, we held extended consultations with the Special Envoy of the UN Secretary General for Syria, Geir Pedersen," he said.

According to Syrian Deputy Foreign Minister Muhammad Ayman Susan, the negotiations in the Astana format contributed to the stabilization of the situation on the territory of the Syrian Arab Republic.

“The Syrian Arab Republic, in cooperation with the Russian Federation and the Islamic Republic of Iran, is doing its best to support this format in realizing the national interests of Syria, strengthening stability in Syria, peace and security in the region,” the Syrian official shared his opinion.

Among the primary issues on the agenda of the talks were: the situation in Idlib, the increasing Israeli attacks on Syria and Ankara's intention to conduct another military operation in the north of the country.

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Negotiations amid escalation

It is characteristic that a new meeting in the Astana format took place when one of its guarantors, Turkey, is again preparing for a special operation against the Syrian Kurds. Erdogan announced a possible new cross-border operation in May. However, the words did not match the actions. Ankara has taken a strong interest in the role of a mediator in the Ukrainian conflict and disputes with NATO members about Sweden and Finland joining the alliance. If in May-June Turkish statements aroused concern, then by mid-November this issue ceased to be paramount. However, a military special operation became possible again afterrorist attack in Istanbul on November 13th. The Turkish government blames the Kurdistan Workers' Party and the associated YPG of the Syrian Kurds for the incident. According to the authorities, Ahlam Albashir, who carried out the attack, is a citizen of Syria and was trained in Kobani, which is under the control of the Kurdish administration of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF). Ankara's response was the air operation "Claw-sword". The Turkish Air Force has attacked Kurdish bases in Syria and Iraq.

“Shelter belonging to the terrorists, caves, tunnels, warehouses have been successfully destroyed. Pinpoint strikes were carried out on the so-called headquarters of a terrorist organization,” Turkish Defense Minister Hulusi Akar said in a video message. Officials now say that the operation will not be limited to air strikes and will soon begin its ground part.

It is noteworthy that the previous 18th round of the Astana format in June was also held against the background of the maximum possibility of conducting an operation. Then we managed to reach an agreement. Russia played a significant role in finding a consensus. Now the situation is repeating itself, and the Russian delegation is again making its efforts.

“Of course, we used the Astana site to have very detailed conversations with our Turkish colleagues and try to convince them to refrain from conducting full-scale ground operations,” Lavrentyev said.

In his opinion, the Russian side hopes that Turkey will heed its requests and refuse the operation.

“We hope that our arguments will be heard in Ankara, other options will be found to solve the existing problem,” he said.

Will there be a new special operation?

In the expert community, there is no consensus about the ground stage of the Claw-Sword operation. One of the assessments is that Turkey will limit itself to air strikes, and uses all its statements for bargaining with the parties of the Astana format. This position is shared by Amur Gadzhiev, a researcher in the Turkish Sector of the Institute of Oriental Studies of the Russian Academy of Sciences.“Now, given the tough opposition from the United States and Iran, given that the next round of negotiations in the Astana format, it seems to me that there will be no ground operation. At least, they will wait for the results and some alternative will be worked out, because in the case of a large-scale, full-fledged military operation, the situation will become much more complicated, and then there will be a possibility of a split in Syria. And the involvement of pro-Kurdish forces in the dialogue will become much less possible, if not impossible at all. Therefore, here, it seems to me, Turkey will take all this into account and will not act aggressively,” he said.

Another assessment of the situation is that a limited air operation is quite enough for Turkey to achieve its goals. However, without receiving the required conditions from the guarantors of the Astana format, Ankara may move to the land phase. This opinion is shared by the editor-in-chief of MK-Turkey Yashar Niyazbaev.

“A series of air strikes called “Claw” has been inflicted for the past three years. They were different: "Claw-Castle", "Claw-Lightning" and many others. Each time they are called in a new way. That is, this is not a serious full-scale ground operation. Here it is not so much Russia, but rather Iran, the United States, the West together do not want to allow escalation in Syria. They don't want Turkey to see her off. But since there was a terrorist attack, Ankara believes that it has legitimate reasons for self-defense and carrying out this operation. Now Turkey, I think, will convince its partners and allies that the operation is necessary. Moreover, in recent days we have seen ongoing missile attacks from Syria. All this plays in support of Turkey’s words that it needs to somehow solve security issues,” he said.

In any case, whether the operation goes through or not, northern Syria will remain a point of tension for a long time to come. However, it is the Astana format that remains one of the really working mechanisms that hold back the start of a new escalation.

Northern Syria targeted by Astana: new round of talks