Turkey’s dual alliance with US and Russia in Syria

Turkey’s dual alliance with US and Russia in Syria

There are two ongoing military processes in which the Turkish army has been heavily involved in Syria: Manbij and Idlib.

The former is a product of a deal between Turkey and the United States in early June that stipulates the removal of YPG elements from Manbij and the handover of the control of the city to local Arab groups.

Turkey has been slamming the U.S. for delaying the implementation of the agreement as President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan recently accused its NATO ally for not keeping promises it made over Manbij. Erdoğan urged Washington in a strongly-worded statement in his long address to parliament on Oct. 1 while calling Turkey’s long-standing partner “to return to the right path” in ties with his government.

Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu, in a softer message on Oct. 2, underlined the need for a full implementation of the agreement he brokered with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. “Now is the time to completely take the YPG out of Manbij and leave the region to the locals, both in terms of administration and security,” he told reporters. Different from Erdoğan, Çavuşoğlu recalled the fact that the deal is still valid and being implemented although there are some delays.

The foreign minister’s remarks followed U.S. Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis’ announcement that training for a joint patrolling around Idlib by Turkish and American troops will soon begin, a development that was welcomed by Çavuşoğlu as well.

However, Turkey’s continued rhetoric that the next military operations in Syria will target YPG-controlled eastern Euphrates displays a blurry future in the Turkish-American ties.

The scene in Idlib is much more complicated and difficult compared to Manbij. Turkey and Russia have signed an agreement to avoid a large-scale military operation by the Syrian army into the rebel-held Idlib province of Syria in a bid to prevent a fresh humanitarian tragedy. The deal obliges Turkey to convince all radical groups to leave the demilitarized zone by Oct. 15 and moderate opposition groups to drop their heavy weapons by Oct. 10.

The military and intelligence of the two countries are in close coordination for the surveillance of the withdrawal of these radical groups from the said enclave. However, the risk is still there and there are not many people who think that this deal can permanently prevent a major military offensive.
However, Turkish officials, at the highest level, often cite their satisfaction with the Russian engagement with regards to the implementation of the Idlib agreement. Erdoğan recalled his lengthy conversation with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov on the sidelines of the U.N. General Assembly meetings while often heralding the upcoming four-way summit with the leaders of France, Germany and Russia in Istanbul on Syria.

He particularly highlights the significance of this fresh international mechanism that will bring these four countries together for the first time, especially in reaction to Turkey’s exclusion from the Small Group created by the U.S. with the participation of seven regional and Western nations.

“Well, then, ours will be the Smaller Group,” Erdoğan reportedly told German Chancellor Angela Merkel during his visit to Berlin last week.

No doubt Russian President Vladimir Putin was pleased to hear so but this sentiment of his would surely not be shared by French President Emmanuel Macron and Merkel. The first thing is that both France and Germany are part of the Small Group and they will never engage in a diplomatic campaign that would be depicted as anti-Trump.

Second, both countries have concerns over the real objectives of the Astana Process. A genuine political settlement in Syria should be through the Geneva Process that is based on resolution 2254 of the U.N. Security Council. Turkey’s recent messages over the failure of the Geneva Process are not seen helpful to this end. Plus, these nations will unlikely be ready to fund the reconstruction of Syria unless the political settlement would provide a viable and inclusive rule in the war-torn country.

Third, France and Germany will sure wait for the results of the Idlib deal. The failure of this agreement and the launch of a large-scale military campaign by the Syrian army – backed by Russia and Iran – will complicate the making of such a summit.

This context in Syria shows a very fragile situation, with so many uncertainties over how Turkey’s multilateral alliances will result in its southern neighborhood.

Serkan Demirtaş, Syrian Civil War, Manbij, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu