Russia remains inviolable for Turkey

Russia remains inviolable for Turkey

Astute daily Hürriyet columnist Deniz Zeyrek wondered in a recent column whether Russia is inviolable for Turkey. He listed the things that Ankara should be blasting Moscow for but is not. 

Put in a nutshell, he pointed out that Russia is helping Turkey’s nemesis in Syria, the Democratic Union Party (PYD) and its military wing, the Peoples’ Protection Units (YPG), which Ankara says are terrorist organizations linked to the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK). 

Zeyrek also indicated in so many words that Russia had blocked any advance by Turkey’s Operations Euphrates Shield toward the towns of Manbij and Afrin, northeast and northwest of al-Bab, which Turkey captured from the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) in February. 

This effectively put paid to Turkish plans to strike YPG elements holding those towns. 

Some military analysts are even arguing that the whole reason behind the Euphrates Shield has been undermined. Turkey’s openly declared aim was to prevent the PYD-held Kurdish cantons east and west of the Euphrates River from uniting. 

The fact that Russia drew a line of demarcation south of al-Bab, above the highway connecting Manbij and Afrin, beyond which it does not want Turkish forces and their Free Syrian Army (FSA) allies to go, has technically speaking connected the two Kurdish cantons east and west of the Euphrates.

What makes the whole matter even more intriguing is the fact that, unlike many Western countries, Moscow refuses to accept the PKK – let alone the PYD or YPG – as a terrorist organization. 

There was also the friendly fire incident not so long ago in which Russian jets struck Turkish forces deployed in al-Bab, killing three and wounding a number of Turkish soldiers. Moscow expressed regret over this “mistake” but offered no apology. Instead it blamed the Turkish military “for having furnished it with the wrong coordinates.”

It is not only Zeyrek who is asking why Russia is “untouchable.” President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s former press adviser, Akif Beki, who also writes for Hürriyet, is doing so too.

Yet while Erdoğan blazes at Europe with every nasty adjective in the book, accusing it of harboring PKK terrorists, the harshest thing he says about Russia is that Turkey is “saddened by the interest [Russia] shows in the YPG, PYD and PKK.”

Erdoğan loves to accuse the West of double standards. Even if he is justified to an extent, it appears he is not bothered about the double standards he displays when it comes to dealing with Russia.

Despite this obvious inconsistency, Erdoğan and his followers are learning the hard way that Russia is not out to serve Turkey’s interests in Syria or anywhere else, including of course Crimea and Cyprus, and is merely pursuing its own agenda. 

The military and political support the PYD is getting from Moscow, which is working hard to secure a seat for the PYD at the Syrian negotiations, and for cultural autonomy for the Syrian Kurds in any settlement, is the best example we have of this. 

In sharp contrast to this, when Washington gives the PYD/YPG similar support, it is railed at with few reservations.

Meanwhile, the economic embargo Moscow imposed on Ankara after Turkish jets downed a Russian jet on a mission in northern Syria in November 2015 has not been fully lifted, despite promises by Moscow, while Turks traveling to Russia still face visa restrictions.

It is clear that from the Caucasus to the western Black Sea region, and from the Balkans to the Middle East, there is little that Russia is doing that is to Turkey’s advantage, yet it remains unassailable as far as Ankara is concerned. 

Some say Russia is taking slow revenge on Turkey for a number of things that have to do with Syria, but Ankara is too preoccupied with stoking public hysteria against the West to see this. Whatever the case may be, Russia remains inviolable as far as Erdoğan and the Justice and Development Party is concerned.