Will the AKP abandon its Sunni allies when it’s all over?
SİNAN BAYKENTTurkey is pursuing military operations in northern Syria. Turkish military forces are leading the operations with elements of the Free Syrian Army (FSA). For a long time, we thought that FSA was a failed-project, and thus extracted it from the Syrian equation. It turns out analysts were wrong and the FSA was still alive and operational.
Turkey’s aim is to clear northern Syria from both the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) and the Democratic Union Party (PYD). However, the fact that Turkey started its military operations right after President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s visit to Russia triggered many question marks. It is clear today that Turkish operations are conducted in accordance with Russia (maybe even Syrian President Bashar al-Assad) and the U.S. Nonetheless, one might expect that affiliations with Russia are now stronger. Even if the U.S. Air Force supports some of these operations, the main agreement seems to have been made in St. Petersburg on August.
The most plausible scenario is the following: In exchange for dismissing the PYD as an ally, Turkey offered Russia and Syria to take control in northern Syria so that ISIL forces could be gathered in the inner parts of Syrian territory, thus facilitating eventual air and ground assaults on them.
Meanwhile, Turkey-sponsored Syrian opposition (primarily Jaish al-Fatah and Ahrar al-Sham) is cruelly being targeted near Aleppo by Russian airstrikes and Syrian artillery. Given that today Turkey acts side-by-side with the FSA (which arose from the dead) does this imply a desertion of ancient allies? Probably.
Turkey and Russia (along with Iran and Syria) may have reached an agreement on the future of Syria. It is very likely that, in the long-term, al-Assad will announce free elections and leave Syria. However for this clause to be effective, all radical Sunni opposition (composed mainly by Salafis) must be combatted and, if possible, eradicated. Considering that Jaish al-Fatah and Ahrar al-Sham are groups resulting of a triple entente (between Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Qatar), Turkish-sided efforts to support these groups will probably decline in the coming months and years.
Despite all displayed enthusiasm (i.e the Nusra Front ended its affiliation with al-Qaeda recently and renamed itself as “Jabhat Fateh al-Sham”), Turkey will eventually switch its policy, playing a more “neutral” or even “indifferent” role towards these groups. In any case, Turkey’s recent silent stance vis-à-vis the new siege of Aleppo indicates that Turkey has already a concrete inclination to abandon its former Sunni allies.
Is this the price to pay in order to protect Turkish territorial integrity? Presumably. But can this new policy cause other numerous problems in terms of national security? Absolutely. American-centered Syrian policy had its risks and Turkey paid highly. But let’s not forget that Russia-centered Syrian policy has also its own risks. Because of its incapacity to lead an independent foreign policy, Turkey seems unfortunately trapped in whatever scenario that shall come in near future.