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Lavrov's Visit to Turkey Shows that Ukraine and Syria Are Tied

Lavrov's Visit to Turkey Shows that Ukraine and Syria Are Tied

Monday, 6 June, 2022 - 09:45

Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov continues his diplomatic rounds in and beyond the region. Recently, he met with foreign ministers of Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) as Russia regards the stance of Arab countries, in general, as balanced.

Lavrov is going to visit Turkey on June 8. There are a number of items to be discussed including Ukraine and Syria, which are at the top of the agenda.

In fact these issues are somehow connected now.

The war in Ukraine continues with some Russian advances and fierce resistance from the Ukrainians. President Volodymyr Zelensky said in an interview that they will continue to fight but that an end to the war can only be reached at the negotiating table. That statement is correct and gives hope, but both sides aim to take their seat at the table as the side with a stronger hand.

One of the foremost issues related to the war in Ukraine is the food crisis. Even though there are different statistics, it is a fact that grain from Ukraine and Russia make up an important portion of grain supplies in the world. Many countries, especially in the Middle East and Africa, have been suffering the consequences of shortage of grain supplies.

Millions of tons of grain are waiting in silos in Ukraine. They can not be exported because of Russia’s blockade and security conditions, including the mines laid in the Black Sea.

Efforts are underway to work out a plan or a mechanism which would allow the Ukrainian grain to be exported. The aim is to open a safe corridor where grain could be loaded onto ships and then transported to their destinations without becoming a target.

There are quite a number of issues to deal with including payment methods. Then, there is the problem of trust. Ukrainians are concerned that Russia may use this as something to use in order to capture Odesa.

As one of the Black Sea countries and as the one who has the control of the Straits (the Turkish Straits), Turkey is in the picture and its foreign minister told the press last week that Turkey has been talking to Russia, Ukraine and the United Nations to facilitate efforts to move the grain out of Ukraine.

On the other hand, Russian President Vladimir Putin argued last Friday that the food crisis was artificial. He said the grain in question could be exported through Belarus but added that in order to be able to do this, sanctions against Belarus would have to be lifted. Belarus' President Aleksandr Lukashenko made a statement to the same effect.

It is difficult to say how these thoughts of Putin fit into the aforementioned efforts of the UN to come up with a plan to deal with the problem.

Sanctions are hurting Russia. But Putin is not giving in and is trying to reverse the situation with various tactics. Russia aims to make or at least make the other side feel that sanctions are self-defeating, He aims to create tensions among the opposite camp.

The EU’s difficulties in imposing sanctions against oil imports from Russia, Hungary’s opposition and the exemption can be regarded within this framework.

Syria will be another issue that will be on the table during Lavrov’s visit to Turkey.

Turkey’s president stated that terror organizations on the other side of the border in northern Syria pose a threat and Turkey aims to cleanse these areas. President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has even specified the targets: Tal Rıfaat and Manbij. That is not something which is usual, as it gives the enemy warning and time to prepare.

The areas in question are leftovers from operations which were carried out in past years. These areas are under the control of People's Protection Units (YPG).

The Russians, Americans, Iranians and Assad regime forces are “in, around and in the vicinity” of these areas.

In Syria, Russia has military bases and an unknown number (estimated at around 30-40,000) of military personnel, including Chechens, mostly functioning as military police, and the Wagner mercenaries.

As I pointed out before, Russians may be re-positioning in Syria, or re-locating some troops and hardware to Ukraine, but they are certainly not abandoning or withdrawing. Syria has become very important for Russia and unless something very dramatic happens, Russia will continue to remain in this country in one form or another.

Where Russia is re-locating from, Iran and allied militias are moving in. They are not occupying or grabbing, but moving in within the framework of understandings or agreements between the two countries in question and the Assad regime.

In the bigger picture, Iran continues to pursue a policy of influence and expansion throughout the region through various means, with the objection of several countries.

In the coming days or weeks, some sort of Turkish operation directed at the YPG looks inevitable. There are those who argue that the operation will be comprehensive and others foresee one of limited scope operation in places that are much less likely to cause any tension with other international forces deployed there.

We must point to two notes: The fact that Russia still controls the airspace in Syria is something that cannot be overlooked; and that a Turkish operation, which would lead to a fresh tensions among NATO allies, would be very welcomed by Russia.

Against this background and the availability of a variety of issues which can be up for negotiations, Lavrov's visit will be interesting to follow.

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