Turkey anxious about US-Russia-Syrian deal behind its back
This is not the first time that Turkey has been taken by surprise by global actors in the Syrian theater.
When the United States, Russia and Jordan joined hands to establish de-escalation zone in southwest Syria back in July 2017, Turkey only found out about it after the sides had agreed to initiate the process. Ankara’s NATO ally Washington decided to cooperate with a non-NATO member, without letting Turkey know in advance. Turkey eventually was informed of the deal by Russia.
I would not be surprised if Ankara also learned about the Nov. 11 meeting between U.S. President Donald Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin in Vietnam from media reports. And if the meeting was not a surprise, the outcome at least - the joint statement issued by Trump and Putin - certainly came as a surprise to Ankara.
This should perhaps be noted down by those who question Turkey’s reliability as a NATO ally, arguing that the Justice and Development Party (AK Party) is distancing the country from the transatlantic alliance.
Russia must be feeling a certain delight in seeing how its flirtations with Ankara are widening the cracks between Ankara and the West. But the recent surprising moves from Russia actually show why Moscow cannot be trusted as a reliable partner for Turkey.
The fact that the U.S.-Russia joint statement contained references to “[Syrian President Bashar] al-Assad” (even if his title was in brackets) and constitutional “reforms” (rather than an entirely new constitution as foreseen in the Geneva process) was already irritating enough for Ankara. But imagine how it must have felt watching the last-minute Assad–Putin meeting in Sochi just before the trilateral meeting between Turkey, Russia and Iran.
Knowing that Turkey’s ruling elites are feeling cornered about the Reza Zarrab case in New York, which is putting additional stress on already strained U.S.–Turkey ties, Putin saw no inconvenience in what could certainly look like a humiliating development for Ankara.
But if the Putin-Assad meeting was an unpleasant surprise for President Erdoğan and his advisors, it was probably more welcome for those who value Turkey’s NATO membership. After all, Putin’s move to meet al–Assad, who Turkey does not want to see in Syria’s future, came at a time when the anti-NATO campaign of the AK Party’s hitmen and women in the press was reaching a peak.
That long-running campaign - which took a small break when Turkey was subjected to Russian sanctions following the downing of the Russian warplane by Turkish jets on the Syrian border in 2015 - heated up again due to recent scandals between Turkey and NATO. Using pictures of Atatürk and Erdoğan as “enemy figures” in NATO drills in Norway was indeed a huge scandal, which could have actually been staged by people who want to see a bigger NATO–Turkey divide.
The jury is out for the real culprits in this incident, but there is no need for a jury about who was responsible for Putin’s last-minute trick behind Turkey’s back.
The Zarrab case may well prove to be humiliating for certain figures and institutions in Turkey. But taking action against it should not come at the expense of greater national humiliations. Likewise, a U.S.–Russian agreement on Syria may not be so bad in terms of solving the Syria issue, but it should not come at the expense of Turkey’s national interests.
Some may be happy to pardon everything that Putin does, but others in Ankara who prioritize national interests are anxious of a U.S.-Russia deal behind Turkey’s back.