Russia, Turkey and Iran held a virtual meeting on Wednesday to coordinate efforts in Syria. They have been holding similar meetings since 2017 as part of what is called the Astana process. Their goals have increasingly converged and their statement this week appeared aimed at undermining the US role in eastern Syria and isolating US partner forces. The statement also condemned Israel for actions in Syria. They called Israel’s actions “destabilizing” but did not pinpoint which exact Israeli actions they meant.
The US entered Syria to fight ISIS but also once supported the Syrian rebels. Today, the US says it guards “oil” in eastern Syria and has a base at Tanf near the Jordanian border. The US works closely with the Syrian Democratic Forces, a multi-ethnic group that is linked to Syria’s Kurdish minority.
In October 2019, Turkey threatened US forces in Syria and ordered the US to leave, attacking the SDF until Russia and the Syrian regime brokered a ceasefire with Ankara that saw Russia deploy forces to areas formerly under US influence. US President Donald Trump has vowed to withdraw from Syria but has been critiqued for abandoning US partners who sacrificed thousands of lives fighting ISIS.
The discussions this week included a 14-point statement. Much of the language was general but was also aimed at undermining the US role in Syria. Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, the President of the Russian Federation, Vladimir Putin, and the President of Turkey, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, agreed to the following points.
They “emphasized their strong commitment to the sovereignty, independence, unity and territorial integrity of the Syrian Arab Republic, as well as the goals and principles of the UN Charter, stating that these principles should be respected by all and no action, regardless of its perpetrators, should be taken.” They rejected the attempt to create new “realities under the pretext of fighting terrorism” and slammed the creation of “autonomy.” They also said they would work against “separatist agendas.”
This language is aimed against the SDF rather than Turkish-backed extremist groups that control Idlib and illegally occupy Afrin in northwest Syria. Turkey has invaded areas in Syria and uses proxy forces to run them. But the language attacking “autonomy” is a reference to the Rojava region and the various autonomous administrations in eastern Syria, where the US and SDF are. Turkish-backed Syrian rebel groups do not seek “autonomy.”
The statement, according to a full version published at Iran’s Tasnim media, also “examined the situation in northeastern Syria and stressed that achieving security and stability in the region is possible only in through maintaining the sovereignty and territorial integrity of the country, and for this purpose [Russia, Turkey and Iran] agreed to coordinate their efforts. The presidents expressed their opposition to the illegal seizure and transfer of oil revenues belonging to the Syrian Arab Republic.” This is a reference to US control of the oil in eastern Syria.
The countries also said they would coordinate efforts against Al Qaeda and ISIS and reduce tensions in Idlib where the Syrian regime has clashed with Turkey. They also sought to address the Covid-19 Pandemic in Syria and demanded more support for refugees. They slammed Israel for the “occupation of the Golan” and also attacked Israel’s actions in Syria. “The presidents described the Israeli military offensive in Syria as destabilizing and undermining the country’s sovereignty and territorial integrity, and exacerbating tensions in the region.”