© Mikhail Metzel/TASS
According to one of Turkey's high-ranking government officials, who preferred to keep his identity secret, the Syrian issue will top the agenda between the presidents of Russia and Turkey. The Ankara official believes that Russian President Vladimir Putin will primarily focus his counterpart Recep Erdogan's attention on the failure by Turkish leadership to comply with obligations assumed at the previous talks in Sochi and under the agreements of March 5, 2020.
The point at issue is the situation in the north-west of Syria, particularly in the Idlib de-escalation zone.
The Turkish side was unlikely seeking to achieve a division of the Syrian armed opposition into "moderate" and "irreconcilable"; it neither withdrew heavy weapons and military equipment from illegal formations, nor provided free and secure transportation between Aleppo and Latakia along the M4 highway. This is despite the establishment of 49 observation posts in the region instead of the twelve stipulated by the agreement.
Moreover, Turkey provides active and implicit military and military-technical assistance to radical anti-government Muslim groups, which falls into the hands of Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (Committee for the Liberation of Syria), an Islamic terrorist organization banned in Russia. Turkey's military and political leadership recently initiated a join-up of armed formations (up to 15 thousand militants) from five major extremist organizations to the Ankara-subordinate Syrian National Army, creating the so-called Syrian Liberation Front.
Thus, Ankara is making no bones about supporting activities aimed to enhance anti-government forces in Syria and amplify resistance to the course serving the interests of Moscow and Damascus. Recep Erdogan implicitly explains that all of this is being done to protect his allies and the Syrian population from the Syrian government army's aggression, as well as to avert new refugee flows.
Alongside military actions in the northern regions of Syria, the Turks are deeply involved in "Turkifying" civilians by adopting their national currency, imposing compulsory Turkish language courses at schools, and creating "branches" of their higher and secondary specialized institutions in the occupied areas. They defiantly build quarters in the border zone to house families of militants serving in Turkish-loyal armed formations, which is often accompanied by forcibly squeezing the indigenous population as represented by the Syrian Kurds out of these areas.
During his meeting with Erdogan, Vladimir Putin will definitely highlight the issue of Turkey's illegal actions as regards the barbaric water withdrawal from the Euphrates: the Turks have built several dams and reservoirs in their territory, thereby draining the once water-abundant and navigable river, turning its lower reaches in Deir ez-Zor Governorate into a streamlet running dry. The Syrians have lost their opportunity to use its waters for agricultural needs. The situation is about the same with drinking water sources, which Russia has repeatedly pointed out when negotiating with the Turks.
To put it mildly, Recep Erdogan is disappointed by the latest Russian and Syrian steps in the Idlib de-escalation zone, characterized by an unexpected increase in the allies' military activities against illegal armed groups loyal to Turkey. According to head of the London-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights Rami Abdel Rahman, September alone witnessed the Russian Aerospace Defense Forces deliver 139 crushing blows against armed terrorists and Islamic radicals in the governorates of Idlib and Latakia, using high-precision boosted munitions. The strikes targeted militant garrisons, arms and materiel warehouses, control and communication facilities, as well as training units that are often located in close vicinity to Turkey's military facilities.
The terrorist enclave in north-western Syria forces to keep most soldiers of the Syrian army and those of its allies in this region, preventing a convergence of efforts that would be sufficient to ultimately destroy the scattered detachments of the Islamic state (ISIL, an international terrorist Muslim group banned in Russia) in that country's remote desert areas.
There is a good chance that on September 29, Russian President Vladimir Putin will offer Recep Erdogan the last fighting chance to promptly honor his obligations under the 2020 Sochi Agreement. In case of refusal or failure, Russia and Syria have a right to strongly urge members of the armed opposition in the de-escalation zone to lay down their arms and surrender. The entire responsibility for further developments will lie with the armed gangs' leaders and their supervisor.
Recep Erdogan quite reasonably fears that the 2021 military campaign of Russia, Syria and Iran will entail a defeat of Turkey's allies in the governorates of Idlib, Latakia, Aleppo and Hama. Therefore, the Sochi talks will definitely see the Turkish leader convince President Vladimir Putin to refrain from playing hardball, while "switching on" the narrative of a humanitarian catastrophe, refugees, and so on and so forth.