INTL CONFLICTSMIDDLE EASTOPINION

No, alt-media, Russia’s Saraqib military police deployment isn’t against Turkey

The Russian military police's deployment to the strategic city of Saraqib following the Syrian Arab Army's reassertion of control there isn't directed against Turkey like leading Syrian Alt-Media outlet Al-Masdar alleges since it was brought about by Hezbollah's support, not the Russian Aerospace Forces', and is aimed at ensuring a key provision of the September 2018 Sochi Deal between Russia and Turkey that was supposed to see Ankara securing civilian access along the M4 and M5 highways in the Idlib "de-escalation zone" per what President Putin said at the time was agreed to "at the suggestion of the Turkish side".

Speculation Over Saraqib

Some in the Alt-Media Community are once again spinning the facts in accordance with their key “influencers'” agenda of manufacturing the perception that the de-facto Russian-Turkish Strategic Partnership is at the brink of collapse after falsely claiming that the Russian military police’s deployment to the strategic city of Saraqib following the Syrian Arab Army’s (SAA) reassertion of control there is allegedly directed against Turkey. The author rhetorically asked over the weekend, “Why’s Anyone Shocked That Putin Listened To Erdogan And ‘Stepped Aside’ In Idlib?“, relying on reputable Syrian journalist Danny Makki’s reports that the SAA was taking an unprecedented pounding to conclude that President Putin indeed abiding by his Turkish counterpart’s request to “step aside” so as to allow the Turkish Armed Forces (TAF) to finally fight the SAA “face-to-face” after the latter killed 33 of its servicemen in the Northwestern Syrian governorate a few days prior. The latest Russian military police deployment to Saraqib is being portrayed by some as an indisputable debunking of the author’s deliberately provocativeobservation, but that isn’t true whatsoever.

Al-Masar’s Misleading Report

The News Desk of Al-Masdar, the most prominent Syrian Alt-Media outlet and one that clearly has inside sources within the SAA, reported in its article titled “Syrian Army retakes the large city of Saraqib after fierce battle” that this was accomplished with Hezbollah’s assistance, making no mention of Russian support. Hezbollah had an interest in doing so because it had lost several of its fighters a few days ago during a Turkish attack on the SAA after its forces were embedded with their allies at the time and were therefore killed as “collateral damage”. Nevertheless, Al-Masdar soon thereafter editorialized in a headline that “Russia deploys military to Saraqib in clear message to Turkey“, with the subtext being that Russia carried out this move in order to thwart a Turkish counterattack against the city, thus making it seem that Moscow is providing crucial on-the-ground military support to the SAA and Hezbollah as their campaign to push back the TAF. The author of the present piece argues that this is an inaccurate assessment of the situation that oversimplifies Russia’s decision to deploy its military police there in order to appeal to the outlet’s pro-Damascus target audience.

Crucial Context From The Official Kremlin Website

Left out of Al-Masdar’s four-sentence and barely 100-word briefing is the legal context in which it occurred, the knowledge of which would have imbued their readers with the understanding that Russia’s move definitely wasn’t aimed against Turkey. Those two Great Powers reached an agreement in Sochi on 17 September, 2018, which President Putin described as follows according to the official Kremlin website:

“We reviewed the situation in detail and decided to establish by October 15 a demilitartised area 15–20 km deep along the contact line between the armed opposition and government troops, with radical militants to be withdrawn from the area, including al-Nusra. Also by October 10, based on the Turkish President’s proposal, to secure the withdrawal of heavy military equipment, tanks, multiple rocket launchers, cannon and mortars of all opposition groups. Turkish mobile patrol groups and Russian military police units will conduct the monitoring of the demilitarised zone. Also to restore transit along the Aleppo-Latakia and Aleppo-Hama routes before the end of 2018, also at the suggestion of the Turkish side.”

Quite clearly, the deal wasn’t ever fully implemented by the Turkish side owing to a variety of reasons that can only be speculated upon but which some believe might have rested with Ankara’s insincere commitment to these clauses, especially the one pertaining to the “restoration of transit along the Aleppo-Latakia and Aleppo-Hama routes”, at the junction of which Saraqib is strategically located.

Supporting Sochi, Not The SAA

It’s for this reason why publicly financed Russian international media outlet TASS reported that the Russian Centre for Reconciliation of Opposing Parties in Syria said that that decision to deploy the military police to Sarqib was carried out after “taking into account the importance of safe and unimpeded movement of motor transport and civilian population along the M4-M5 highways”. In other words, because Turkey had failed over the past 18 months to implement this crucial component of the September 2018 Sochi Deal, Russia took it upon itself to do so instead following the SAA’s recent reassertion of control over this strategic city with Hezbollah’s support. It’s true that this deployment might deter the TAF and its allied groups from making another attempt to retake the town, but that wasn’t Russia’s primary intent. All that Moscow aimed to do was ensure that a key provision of the Sochi Deal was finally implemented in practice as Turkey itself had not only agreed to, but according to President Putin, even “suggested” on its own at the time. Had Russia wanted to “support the SAA against Turkey”, it wouldn’t have let Saraqib fall in the first place after President Putin “stepped aside” in Idlib.

Concluding Thoughts

To summarize, it was Hezbollah — not Russia — that helped the SAA reassert its control over the strategic city of Saraqib per leading Syrian Alt-Media outlet Al-Masdar’s original report, even though it later misportrayed Moscow as having anti-Turkish intentions for deploying its military police there for reasons that only that media company can account for if it so chooses. The Russian Centre for Reconciliation of Opposing Parties in Syria said that it carried out this decision in order to ensure the “safe and unimpeded movement of motor transport and civilian population along the M4-M5 highways” in accordance with the provisions of the Sochi Deal that Presidents Putin and Erdogan agreed to in September 2018. Therefore, Moscow’s move wasn’t done to support the SAA against Turkey like Al-Masdar alleged, but to support a key clause of the Sochi Deal that the Russian leader said was included in the agreement “at the suggestion of the Turkish side.” If Russia really didn’t “step aside” in Idlib like many still refuse to believe, then it would have let the SAA use the S-300s to enforce their self-declared “no-fly zone” there, which clearly hasn’t happened after Turkey just shot down another jet today.

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Andrew Korybko

Andrew Korybko is a Moscow-based American political analyst. He specializes in the relationship between the US strategy in Afro-Eurasia, China's Belt & Road Initiative, and Hybrid Warfare. His other areas of focus include South Asian affairs and the US' recent restoration of hegemonic influence in Latin America.

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