Erdogan’s Syrian Trap

MOSCOW, 24 Oct 2021, RUSSTRAT Institute.

The Anadolu news agency circulated a tough statement made by President Erdogan about Turkey’s readiness to “use heavy weapons in the Syrian province of Idlib.” Moreover, his words that “Ankara does not know the reaction of the Syrian authorities to these plans” should demonstrate the inflexibility of the will of the Turkish leadership and complete disregard for the opinion of the Syrian government in this regard.

So what happened looks outwardly, but in reality, most likely it has a completely different meaning.

Counting on a “small victorious war” invading northern Syria, Erdogan found himself in a difficult position. His activity was not supported by NATO. Indifference to the aspirations of the Turkish ruling elite was demonstrated by the United States, publicly “taking as allies” the very Kurds against whom Turkey has already launched two direct military operations.

And although Washington traditionally betrayed its allies, defiantly stepping aside when the Turkish army invaded Syrian Idlib, formally Turkey, albeit in passing, turned out to be America’s adversary. Moreover, the story of the attempted military coup and the refusal to extradite to Turkey Fethullah Gulen, living in the United States and guilty of preparing it.

On the one hand, what is happening demonstrates the inflexibility of the will of the current Turkish leader, who wants to make the country at least an indisputable regional leader, for the sake of which he ignores all past alliances and agreements. But on the other hand, having sent troops to Idlib as part of Operation Olive Branch, Turkey has not been able to achieve victory there since 2018.

Not least because of the desire to exploit the hands of various proxies of varying degrees of pro-Turkishness and an even wider range of controllability.

While the armed forces of Syria were at the limit of their capabilities fighting with the armed groups of Islamist radicals, the plan worked at the very least. But now Bashar al-Assad has managed to successfully solve several successive tasks, ranging from the defeat of the main formations of ISIS to the restoration of the power of the government’s armed forces, as well as the holding of a national election in which he won.

As a result, the Syrian army has accumulated enough strength to “return to the issue of the Turkish occupation of Northern Syria.” Moreover, it was Erdogan who provided a convenient reason for this, having undertaken obligations to ensure civil order in Idlib, which he did not fulfill, continuing to hand over Turkish units there not as occupiers, but as international peacekeepers fighting “against all sorts of things here”.

Thus, increasing pressure on Idlib, including in the form of artillery strikes against the positions of pro-Turkish proxies, Damascus is fighting, as it were, not with the Turkish army, but only “leading to the standard form of illegal armed formations of no one’s identity.”

And it is very likely that Assad in this is very close to the borderline when quantity turns into a new quality. As retired Turkish admiral Turker Erturk said: “The summit in Sochi went very badly.” In fact, Moscow “asked” Ankara to “leave” Syria.

And so that Recep Erdogan does not confuse Russian politeness with weakness, the issue of selling to Turkey the “already almost contracted” second brigade set of S-400s immediately disappeared from the agenda. And with gas supplies, too, “there were difficulties.” According to Erturk, “it was said that this winter Idlib will become part of the Syrian government.” Probably, this means the restoration of Damascus’ control over it.

Thus, Erdogan was trapped. This makes clear the desperate inconsistency of his recent public statements. He simultaneously demands a place in the permanent composition of the UN Security Council and the dissolution of this very Security Council, and threatens the use of heavy weapons in Idlib, and immediately declares his desire to establish peace there as soon as possible.

Against this background, Ankara’s demands to Washington for the immediate withdrawal of American troops look especially vivid. Moreover, not only from Syria, but also from Iraq. With emphasis on the purely internal character of the Syrian conflict, which must also be dealt with “only by the countries of this region.”

The question arises – what is behind all this? We will receive an answer during the G20 summit in Rome, scheduled for October 30-31.

There, a personal meeting is planned between Erdogan and Biden, at which three fundamental issues should be discussed: the lifting of American economic sanctions against Ankara, the settlement of the “problem of Turkish participation in the F-35 program” and, most importantly, receiving from Washington a final response to the application for the acquisition in the United States of 40 F-16 V “Viper” Block 70 fighters and 80 more kits to modernize other older versions of the F-16 already in the Turkish Air Force, for a total of about $7 billion.

Roughly speaking, if the United States makes concessions on at least two out of three issues (even if Ankara does not get the F-35), then with all the reservations Turkey will continue to remain in line with the general global geopolitical line of the United States.

If not, and in the meantime the current state of affairs says that the Americans will refuse even to sell modernisation kits for the F-16, then in the medium term Turkey will inevitably be forced to start withdrawing from NATO. Since membership in the Alliance will start to cause problems many times more than give advantages. And this will be the beginning of the end of the Bloc itself.

However, despite vivid emotions, Erdogan himself is afraid of such radical steps. Turkey does not have sufficient resources for independent revival of the Empire. But he is also unable to abandon the imperial habits due to the specifics of the intra-Turkish socio-political situation. So here is the Turkish president also trying to banally bargain with Washington, frightening him.

However, will Washington be afraid of Erdogan?


Institute for International Political and Economic Strategies – RUSSTRAT


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