[Editor’s note: Turkey, through tossing this article “out there,” openly announces they can’t be trusted and never should have been. If Russia didn’t know Erdogan is a petty fraud, they weren’t paying attention. Erdogan is shouting it out: “Don’t trust me, I am as big a liar and sneak as Trump.”
The relationship between Putin’s Russia and Erdogan’s Turkey has been a matter of great interest to us for a long time now. It has been very difficult to discern anything at all about that relationship and that remains the case, despite several notable events that have seen the apparent nature of that relationship change.
Solid intel on this issue has been very thin on the ground indeed, so we are left to pick over the meagre clues that come along from time to time. The Turkish shootdown of a Russian Sukhoi bomber marked what appeared to be a low point in Russo-Turkish relations, but since then there appears to have been a good deal of detente and an apparent alliance of sorts. Also, we have seen the beginning of construction of the SouthStream gas pipeline from southern Russia through Turkey to Italy and the vast European market, a project vital to the Russian economy as it sidesteps the blockade of the existing pipelines that pass through Ukraine.
Therefore we were beginning to think that Russia and Turkey were slowly drawing closer, and forming a three-way alliance with Iran that stood in opposition to the US-Israel-Saudi cabal behind ISIS.
However, events of the last couple of weeks have once more baffled us as to what is really going on between Russia and Turkey. First, we watched as Turkey failed to capture Al-Bab in Syria from IS, realising something was very wrong when the third largest military in NATO was proving incapable of capturing a town held by less than a thousand mercenary headchoppers. Then we discovered that this was all a farce and the Turks had not been trying to take Al-Bab at all, in fact, there was no fighting going on and the forces holding Al-Bab under the guise of ISIS were nothing of the sort, proven when all 950 of them boarded Turkish army lorries and drove off into Turkey to be re-supplied before being re-deployed to Raqqah to join the ISIS forces there. The next day the Turkish army marched into Al-Bab unopposed and claimed it had won a great victory, driving ISIS out in hard fighting.
We noted that Russia remained utterly silent during this farce and quite frankly, that concerned us.
Next we learn that Damascus is threatening to drive the Turkish Army out of Syrian territory because they, quite rightly, saw the Turkish incursion into Syria as illegal and dangerous. No doubt, Damascus was counting on Russian and Iranian support in their tough stance against Erdogan’s aggressions.
Which brings us to last week and the disturbing news that the Turks had blocked the flow of the Euphrates river, thus depriving the cities of northern Syria, including Aleppo of both water and electricity, a clear act of aggression by Erdogan against Syria.
Then Turkey followed that offence up with an onslaught of aerial bombing against the Syrian armed forces, a clear act of war. Damascus reached out to both Moscow and Tehran to intervene and stop this Turkish onslaught. They were met with stony silence, something that must concern everyone as it may mark a paradigm shift in the alliances surrounding the Middle East conflict, particularly the relationship between Russia and Turkey.
So where does this leave us in our understanding of the situation? Quite frankly, as confused as we were months ago, still scraping for clues to guide us. The following article is one of those clues, being written by a senior Turkish academic and published by a Turkish newspaper that, like all Turkish newspapers in the post-coup era, is government controlled. Therefore this represents the closest to an official statement we are going to find. Ian]
Russia jeopardizing its alliance with Turkey
by Assoc. Prof. Hasan Basri Yalçın
Turkey’s relations with Russia have always been characterized by ups and downs. However, there have been even greater fluctuations over the past few years.
The relations, which improved slowly after the Cold War, tended to grow smoothly until the Syrian Civil War which changed the way Turkey and Russia viewed each other. Yet they still endeavored to carry on the same kind of relationship.
The downing of the Russian fighter jet on Nov. 24, 2015, however, caused a serious rupture in the relations. After persisting for about a year, the tension began to give way to rapprochement following Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s visit to Russia in the aftermath of the July 15 coup attempt in Turkey.
The two countries then carried out a successful cooperation in Syria. Currently, however, Russia is trying to keep Turkey by its side through intimidation. Failing to see that the path to take should instead be one of inspiring confidence, Russia is about to repeat a mistake that it has typically made throughout history.
Since the very first day of the Syrian crisis, Turkey has constantly supported Syria’s territorial integrity and democratic transformation. However, the Obama administration cared neither about Syria’s democracy nor its territorial integrity. On the contrary, the U.S. administration pursued an active strategy to create a deadlock.
It quite intentionally preferred a structure based on proxy wars. It also did its utmost to create a quagmire where terrorist organizations fought each other and the regional countries confronted one another.
The U.S. initially decided to support the Syrian opposition, even pressuring Turkey to give it more support. As Turkey dragged its feet though, the U.S. pressure intensified. But when Turkey began to support the opposition, the U.S. sided against Turkey.
Washington took great pleasure from watching the conflict between Hezbollah and the Syrian opposition. It also did nothing but watch the strife between Iran and Turkey. And when the Iranian-backed regime began to lose, it turned a blind eye even to the Russian entry into the conflict.
It watched all these countries and groups whittling away at each other’s power. Obama meant it when he said in a statement that Russia would suffer great losses in Syria because it was exactly what he had in mind. His expectation was to create an inextricable deadlock.
When Turkey put its foot down about not getting directly involved in the war, the U.S. and other Western countries threatened Turkey. They accused it of supporting Daesh for one. And when Turkey resisted all this, this time they blackmailed it with the Syrian Kurdish Democratic Party (PYD) — an offshoot of the terrorist Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) — which Turkey also defines as a terrorist group.
US went too far
The implicit message was, “If you do not fight in a way that serves our interests, we will pave the way for the PYD.”
But the U.S. went too far with its pressure, leaving Turkey no space to step back. It forced the lever so much that it eventually broke. So Turkey drew itself a new route. It chose to compromise with Russia. Threats and blackmailing did not work. On the contrary, it directed Turkey towards choosing the lesser of two evils.
As far as we understand, Turkey launched its Operation Euphrates Shield as a result of a compromise it reached with Russia. According to this agreement, the Free Syrian Army (FSA) was to advance up to al-Bab town with the support of Turkey. The M-4 highway would be the border between the FSA and the regime.
Thus the PYD would be prevented from forming a corridor. The FSA, which positioned itself between Afrin and the Euphrates River, would act like a shield. Daesh would be completely eliminated from all of the areas bordering Turkey. This operation was one of offense against Deash, and one of defense against the PYD. And the last link of it would be al-Bab. So it was.
If the Obama administration had remained in power, Turkey could have taken a defensive position against Daesh and launched an attack against the PYD after al-Bab. But in the meantime the U.S. administration changed. And so did the deadlock policy.
In came Trump, who antagonized Iran and China along with Daesh. Although he has not been giving out ominous signals regarding Russia, it also does not seem likely that he will nurture good relations with Moscow now that he looks intent on taking on Iran and China. Moscow is actually aware of this fact.
It also knows the following: When Turkey takes control of al-Bab, it will cease to have any further need for Russia. Trump had a quite friendly conversation with Erdogan. He implied that the U.S. would get back on ground against Iran and Daesh.
Turkey responded with similar signals. It presented a plan for cleansing Raqqah. In return, the CIA chief rushed to Ankara to deliver the White House’s message, announcing that they would be fighting alongside Turkey against all terrorist organizations.
With all of these added up, Russia began to lose its trust in Turkey. It is now concerned about the possibility that Turkey may gravitate toward the U.S.
When you are worried, what you need to do is not fight. On the contrary, if Russia does not want to lose Turkey, it should encourage it to stay with it. This is the rational behavior in this case.
Moscow and PYD
But what is Russia doing now instead? It is doing exactly the opposite of what it should be doing. It is threatening instead of inspiring confidence. Russia is spreading the rumor that it has made a deal with the PYD. Russian jets “accidentally” hit the headquarters of the Turkish troops.
Moscow is attempting to involve the PYD in the Astana process although this is tantamount to placing explosives under this fragile process. Russia is failing to see that Turkey will not cooperate with it as long as it resorts to such methods.
In a nutshell, Russia is doing whatever it takes to lose Turkey. When you look at it this way, it is obvious that Russia has been displaying an extremely irrational behavior. What it should be doing instead is to persuade Turkey of the U.S.’s unreliability.
To approach Turkey with a clear-cut plan about the PYD, Turkey’s expectations are very clear. Even a few steps in the right direction would be enough to appease Turkey. For example, Russia has still not closed the PYD’s office in Moscow.
Instead of reassuring Turkey in regard to the PYD, it is still keeping PYD as a blackmail tool. It cannot see that the PYD blackmail will backfire.
Let us be frank here. If Russia fails to approach Turkey with a better deal than that of the U.S., Turkey will get closer to its NATO ally. Russia needs to be a step ahead of the U.S. If it loses Turkey, it may be left alone with Iran against the Western alliance.
But if it manages to convince Turkey to cooperate, it will also have managed to create a rift in the Western alliance. That is also the way to disrupting the idea of unity in the NATO. Thus, it will not be isolated in Syria. Turkey cannot be considered in isolation. It is a NATO member country.
If the U.S. comes up with a holistic plan and the United Nations confronts Russia, a more effective coalition might be set up that would exclude Russia. How long could Russia possibly withstand such a struggle then?
All its years-long investment in Syria may as well come to naught. Moreover, a polarization that may arise in Syria would probably put Russia in a difficult situation in Ukraine as well. Syria cannot be dealt with in isolation. Syria is the trigger for Ukraine.
Just as Ukraine had triggered Syria, Syria may now trigger Ukraine. What allowed Russia the steps that it took in Ukraine and Syria was the fragility and weakness in the Atlantic line. But things in the Trump era will not be the same as they were during Obama’s term.
On the contrary, the loose screws, as it were, will be tightened. Russia is also aware of this actually. And it is why it is worried. And as it gives in more and more to this fear, it is losing its control. As it falls deeper into a spiral of threat, it will push away Turkey.
In fact, this attitude should not surprise anyone. According to American diplomat and political scientist Henry Kissinger, Russian diplomacy is based on fear. You can find many instances of this in the history of Russia.
During the Cold War, it treated its partners as satellites instead of allies. It increased the pressure on the communist countries that it was afraid of losing. As the pressure mounted, its fears also grew. The 1956 Hungarian Revolution and the 1968 Prague Spring were results of the same kind of mistake.
Russia has in the past tried a similar threat but ended up with bad results. For example, it tried to corner Turkey after the Second World War using the issue of Straits and making territorial demands which in turn led Turkey to develop closer ties with the U.S. In doing so, Russia triggered an early polarization during the Cold War era.
Kenneth Waltz, another American political scientist, implied that state heads were free to do stupid things but could not possibly do them repeatedly. He added that those who repeated stupid mistakes were bound to go down in history as losers.
But in fact, different generations can repeat the same stupidity many times over. Rather than encouragement, they can opt for threats. Putin might repeat Stalin’s error. He may alienate Turkey rather unnecessarily. But in that case, it may take another 50 years before it can get such an opportunity again.
If Russia has not understood what the PYD issue means to Turkey, even a cursory look at the process in which the U.S. alienated Turkey should suffice as an example. America’s threats and blackmailing attempts also failed to persuade Turkey. They were counterproductive in that they pushed Turkey closer to Russia.
The PYD is such a central threat to Turkey that it can risk a lot to eliminate it. And in fact, Turkey will be determined to use the force that it has as a NATO member. The PYD has already been confined to a particular area. Turkey is thus less concerned now. It will wait to walk together with the one giving reassurance, not the one hurling threats.
Let us all wait and see how Russia will interpret this issue and what kind of choice it will make. If it acts with reason rather than fear, it should leave aside its threatening and blackmailing ways and proceed with the mutual transaction phase.
But for now, it is difficult to say that it is able to display such prudence. It seems like what it fears could come true indeed.