Der Deal: Afrin für Ghouta
Since Russia controls Syrian airspace, its approval would have been required for Turkey’s airstrikes against the YPG/YPJ forces defending Afrin. Furthermore, the fact that Russia withdrew its troops from Afrin on the eve of the attack by Turkey shows that the deal had been reached between Moscow and Ankara, handing the enclave to the state of Turkey.
“They had implied as much”, the PYD-representative in Moscow says, explaining what happened behind the scenes. “The Russians had us understand that unless we ceded Afrin to Assad, they would let the Turks go ahead with their assault.” In his view, Russia’s reasoning behind this decision builds on several calculations. “To begin with, this new front obviously draws resources from both the YPG/YPJ and Turkey. This weakens both parties and strengthens Assad’s position. At the same time, they are hoping to deepen the split between Turkey and its NATO allies.”
After a pause, he added: “And then there is Ghouta, which Assad and the Russians have been bombing relentlessly”. The rebel-held enclave east of Damascus has recently become a focal point in the Syrian regime’s efforts to regain control over the fractured country. The fact that the regime intensified its attacks on Ghouta at the same time as Turkey advanced on Afrin is no coincidence to the PYD-envoy. “Russia and Turkey have agreed to refrain from criticizing each other’s actions, effectively trading territories.”