Turkish, Russian troops protect NATO border

Turkish, Russian troops protect NATO border

In accordance with the Oct. 22 deal in Sochi provided by President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and Russian President Vladimir Putin, Turkish and Russian ground and air units launched on Nov. 1 the first joint patrols in the Darbasiyah region in northeastern Syria. It’s not the first the time that Turkey and Russia are holding patrolling missions in Syria.

On March 8, the two countries’ armies carried out patrolling missions in Idlib and on March 26 in Tel Rifat city of Syria. But the ongoing mission has significant differences from the two previous patrols.

First, the latest mission is taking place in eastern Syria, meaning that the Turkish-Russian cooperation has widened. Second, the first two missions were characterized as coordinated patrol missions, while the latest is a joint patrolling mission with the participation of ground and air units. Third, the latest comes after a part of a comprehensive deal with short and long-term objectives.

On the one hand, it seeks to address Turkey’s legitimate security concerns stemming from the presence of the heavily armed YPG members just across its borders and, on the other hand, establish a common understanding between Ankara and Moscow for the future of Syria.

Yet, another very important significance is the fact that the objective of this joint patrol mission is to protect Turkish, therefore NATO, borders from terrorist threats. This puts Russia in a position to ally with a NATO country for the protection of NATO’s borders on the southern flank of the alliance.

Plus, this happens after NATO’s most powerful army, the United States, have withdrawn their troops from the same areas. It, thus, introduces another symbolic development in terms of deepening military ties between Turkey and non-NATO Russia.

The Turkish officials deny the claims that carrying out joint patrol missions with Russia would constitute a breach of NATO principles. They suggest that any nation has the right to protect its borders against terror threats while recalling that the U.S. or other allied countries cooperate militarily with Russia when necessary.

However, there are some points that need to be clarified. Article 5 of the Turkish-Russian memorandum of understanding stipulates the start of joint patrol missions, but it does not tell anything about the end date. The fact that Russia has dispatched two military delegations to Ankara in less than three days and that top generals of the two armies are in constant dialogue, one can assume that this mission would be an open-ended one.

An important assessment on Ankara-Moscow deal came from Syrian President Bashar al-Assad on Nov. 1.

Assad welcomed the deal to set up a safe zone along the Turkish border as a “positive” step that would help his regime achieve its goal. “It might not achieve everything ... it paves the road to liberating this area in the near future, we hope,” he said.

He also drew attention to the difference between strategic and tactical alliances in the Syrian theater, implying that Russian cooperation with Turkey has tactical purposes for handing the Syrian lands along the border back to the control of Damascus. The Syrian president, who owes his seat to unending Russian support, underlined once again the only strategic alliance is between Russia and Syria.