The Turkey-Russia crisis and liquid coalitions

The Turkey-Russia crisis and liquid coalitions

Which countries benefit and which countries suffer from the Turkey-Russia crisis is widely discussed these days. But the answer is sought in the wrong place - in the old bipolar world order that does not exist anymore.

A new order prevails today. The U.S. and Russia are not on opposite fronts, nor are the countries in the region split along such bipolar lines. This is exactly why Turkey has found itself in a most complicated situation in the aftermath of its tension with Russia.

The current world order is best defined by Polish sociologist Zygmunt Bauman in his book “Liquid Modernity.” Accordingly, we are living in “liquid times” and therefore alliances are also liquid. The coalition to fight the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), for instance, was formed solely to launch a mission against ISIL. Hence it is a pragmatic and short-term coalition and will dissolve right after the mission is completed.

In this “liquid” anti-ISIL alliance, the U.S. and Russia are standing side-by-side. Moreover, these two countries seem to have split Iraq and Syria among themselves. Washington has been content with Moscow’s intervention in Syria mainly because this will lay the burden of the fight with ISIL in Syria on Russia. 

Instead the U.S. now seems to be planning to show its strength in Iraq. Washington had to suspend its joint airstrikes and upcoming operation with Turkey in Syria in the aftermath of the Turkey-Russia crisis. It seems to have given up Syria to Russia and shifted its priority instead to Iraq’s Mosul. In short, even though the U.S. and Russia are rivals, they act in coordination in this struggle.

This is exactly why the countries in the region are not subject to the rule “you are either with the U.S. or with Russia.” They have all positioned themselves according to this “liquid alliance.”

After Russia’s intervention in Syria, a joint command center was established between Russia, Iraq, Iran and Syria. Hence this quartet is moving concertedly. This was proven last week when Russia acted as the protector of Baghdad as a crisis erupted between Turkey and Iraq over Turkey’s recent deployment of hundreds of soldiers at a base in northern Iraq.

Yet on the other hand, Baghdad also closely cooperates with the U.S. The same applies to Iran, which seems to be open to cooperating with Washington in the wake of its nuclear agreement with the West. It has been recently reported that Iranian militia forces will join the expected U.S. operation to Mosul soon. In other words, there seems to be some coordination between the U.S., Iraq and Iran as well.

Iraqi and Syrian Kurds are also acting along similar lines. Masoud Barzani, the president of the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) in northern Iraq, is a close ally of the U.S., and also in strategic cooperation with Turkey. Yet right after Russia intervened in Syria, Barzani didn’t refrain from saying they would be happy if Russia would support their Peshmerga forces. He is also trying to keep his relations with Baghdad balanced. Barzani recently showed the same attitude towards Iran when he said, “We are not a party; both Turkey and Iran are our friends,” right before he left Turkey on Dec. 11.

The Democratic Union Party (PYD) is also pursuing a similar policy. While it is living under the wings of the U.S., it is increasingly sidling up to Russia. Recently it also started to move along with the Iranian militia in Syria. Moreover, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has just disclosed his support to the PYD. 

Apparently the countries in the region and the forces on the ground have formed “liquid alliances” which are intermingled with each other. On the one hand they all act in compliance with the either U.S. or Russia-dominated axis, while on the other hand they flirt with the other axis as well.

So far Turkey had been following the same line. It continued its close cooperation with the U.S. despite their major disagreement on the PYD, while Ankara also maintained its good relations with Russia in spite of their major conflicts.

Yet Turkey’s recent crisis with Russia has suddenly turned this equilibrium upside down. Now Turkey has fallen across the Syria-Iraq-Iran axis pioneered by Russia. The most recent statements of Baghdad and Tehran, which were harshly critical of Turkey’s recent move in northern Iraq, indicate this shift.

Ankara acts in accordance with the zeitgeist by trying to control the recent tensions with Russia and Iraq and by not escalating its disagreement with the U.S. on the issue of the PYD. Yet its job has become much more difficult in the aftermath of the Russia crisis since it is now confined to only one axis.

So Turkey will most probably rapidly strengthen its relations with the U.S. And in order to do that it will certainly have to “liquidify” its PYD policy.