Is Turkey Burying Syria’s Revolution By Using Syrian Rebels Against YPG? Seth J. Frantzman Jerusalem Post, Aug. 6, 2019
Turkey vowed to being a military operation in eastern Syria last month. It continued the threats into early August as the US, which has forces in eastern Syria, scrambled to come up with a plan that would stave off the attack. Turkey’s main goal is to try to create a “peace corridor” along hundreds of kilometers of Syrian border, removing the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) and creating an area similar to what Turkey has done in Afrin and Jarabulus.
As Turkey prepared its offensive around 14,000 Syrian rebels sought to support the upcoming battle. This is part of the increasing way in which Turkey has encouraged the Syrian rebels to focus on fighting the YPG, as opposed to fighting the Syrian regime, redirecting the remnants of the Syrian rebellion towards helping Turkey secure border areas. But the further the rebels are encouraged to operate from the Damascus, the more their role looks cynical and more in Ankara’s interests than their own. However, it links to Ankara’s complex logic behind wanting to launch an operation.
Ankara’s aims are clear. It said last year it would return eastern Syria to its “true owners” and it is eyeing returning 700,000 Syrian refugees to areas along the border. Turkey’s leadership indicated on August 5 that it views an upcoming military offensive east of the Euphrates in Syria as continued its operation Euphrates Shield in 2016 and Olive Branch in 2018 in Afrin. In Olive Branch it secured a border area from Jarabulus to Al-Bab and then n 2018 it took over the mostly Kurdish area of Afrin. 330,000 Syrians returned to these areas, while around 150,000 Kurdish Syrian residents of Afrin fled. Many Kurds see this as demographic change, sending Syrian refugees who fled to Turkey from other areas of Syria, back to Syria but to Kurdish areas to change the border demographics and create a more pro-Turkish feeling among those who returned. Turkey says it is just creating security and helping Syrians go back to Syria.
The context is more complicated. Since 2016 Turkish-backed Syrian rebels have been helping in these operations. In 2016 Turkey said it was creating a “buffer zone” against the Kurdish YPG and the Syrian Democratic Forces, the main US partners on the ground in the war on ISIS. This was a bit chaotic for the US in 2016 because the US had been backing the Syrian rebels as well. Both Turkey and the US once saw eye to eye on the Free Syrian Army and other rebel groups of the Syrian revolution. But policies diverged as more extremist group such as Nusra Front and Ahrar al-Sham inserted themselves into rebel areas. When ISIS emerged as a major force in 2014 the US shifted priorities to fight ISIS. The US found that the Kurdish forces were most effective against ISIS and eventually with US support the Syrian Democratic Forces, which include many Syrian Kurds and Arabs, came into existence. … [To read the full article, click the following LINK – Ed.]
With a New World Order Taking Shape, Turkey Again Looks Eastward Oded Eran and Gallia Lindenstrauss INSS Insight No. 1194, July 16, 2019
Turkey has been an important NATO partner since it joined the alliance in 1952. Its large military and its location – south of the Soviet Union, and a buffer for the eastern Mediterranean – underlay its importance to European security, and despite the Cyprus conflict and its tense ties with neighboring Greece, Ankara and Washington maintained strategic cooperation. However, recent signs indicate a shift in Turkey’s strategic outlook, which dovetails with intensive initiatives and activity by Russia and China – each for its own reasons – in the Western-Asian-East European sphere, raising the possibility of long term change with extensive consequences that include ramifications for Israel. This is not the first time that Ankara has expressed increased interest in cooperating with Russia and China, and it argues that in principle, such contacts do not contravene its relations with the West. That said, the deep crisis in Turkish-US ties presents fertile ground for Moscow to achieve its goal of creating an internal rift in the North Atlantic Treaty with greater ease than before.
Turkey has demonstrated increased distance from the United States and European Union on several core issues, chief among them the procurement – despite the objections of the US and other NATO states – of the S-400 air defense system from Russia. This contrasts with the Obama administration’s success in bringing about Turkey’s 2015 announcement that it was canceling an air defense tender won by China. In a letter of June 6, 2019 to his Turkish counterpart, the acting US Secretary of Defense warned that if Turkey did not suspend receipt of the S-400 shipment from Russia, the sale of F-35 jets to Turkey would be canceled and all Turkish pilots undergoing training would be forced to leave the United States by July 31. Nonetheless, the first shipment linked to the S-400 deal arrived in Turkey from Russia on July 12. President Donald Trump, who met President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on June 29 on the sidelines of the G-20 summit in Japan, sought to explain the Turkish purchase in terms of the refusal of his predecessor, President Barack Obama, to sell Turkey a comparable American system, but did not withdraw the threat regarding the F-35. The difficulty in clinching a sale of Patriot batteries to Turkey stemmed, according to Ankara, from disputes over the question of technology transfers as well as disagreement over the price. Yet even a playing down of the current S-400 crisis cannot conceal the cumulative change in recent years of Turkey’s standing in the United States and Europe, and as a result, within NATO as well.
Ankara continues to oppose Bashar al-Assad’s continued rule in Syria, but during the civil war years, it increased cooperation with Iran and Russia. Since December 2016, the three have worked within the framework of the Astana process to address the war on the Islamic State, arranging truces within Syria and drafting a political solution. The clear Turkish goal of preventing a Kurdish autonomous region south of the Turkey-Syria border compels Washington, and thus almost certainly other Western partners too, to leave forces – even if symbolic – in Syria so as to prevent a Turkish onslaught against the Kurds; this, despite Trump’s declared desire to leave Syria. Against this backdrop, the United States and other NATO partners must resign themselves to the Turkish-Russian-Iranian cooperation; to Turkey’s support for Iran in matters related to the 2015 nuclear deal (JCPOA), which following the US withdrawal from the deal and despite European efforts, seems to be collapsing; and to its helping Iran contend with the imposed (and possibly additional future) economic sanctions, by circumventing them through their long shared border and mechanisms such as the European INSTEX or the use of local currency (Iranian and Turkish) for trade. … [To read the full article, click the following LINK – Ed.]
Point Counterpoint: Turkey Should Be Expelled from NATO Alessandro Gagaridis Geopolitical Monitor, Aug. 6, 2019
Turkey’s purchase of the Russian-made S-400 air defense system has angered the country’s NATO allies, the latest in a series of disagreements fueling a deterioration of Ankara’s relations with the West. The widening rift has some openly questioning the utility of Turkey’s ongoing presence in NATO, advocating for Ankara’s expulsion.
Given the past few years of geopolitical divergence between Turkey and the West – this might actually be the best course of action for the Alliance.
The fracture within: Turkey’s geopolitical drift from its NATO allies
Turkey has been a NATO member since 1952, and during the Cold War it represented the main bulwark against possible Soviet offensives on the Alliance’s southern flank. However, there have always been significant discrepancies between Ankara and its Western partners. While a certain divergence of interests and approaches is normal in a multilateral military alliance, the drift has been particularly pronounced in Turkey’s case.
First, Turkey has always had tense relations with Greece, another NATO member. The two engaged in open military clashes during the 1974 Cyprus crisis. Ankara occupied of the northern part of the island and established the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus, which is not recognized by the international community. This is an awkward situation for NATO members, especially after they condemned Russia’s annexation of Crimea. Greece and Turkey also have an unresolved dispute over the delimitation of their respective maritime and aerial zones in the Aegean. This has brought them to the brink of war in 1987 and 1996, and the Turkish military frequently violates Greek airspace. After the discovery of hydrocarbon deposits in the Eastern Mediterranean, Turkey has assertively advanced its rights and has not hesitated to confront Greece and Italy.
Contradictions also exist in the Middle East. Turkey hosts the important Incirlik air base (where US tactical nuclear warheads are stored) and is NATO’s gateway to the region. Yet it has been lukewarm in supporting America’s interests and that of other Western partners. Turkey stood still when the self-declared Islamic State (IS) emerged in Iraq and Syria, and has even been accused of having favored its rise and, at least initially, allowing the group to finance its terrorist activities by smuggling oil through Turkish territory. Ankara also conducted military operations to prevent the US-backed YPG Kurdish militia from taking control of a strip of Syrian and Iraqi land bordering its territory. Turkey’s relations with US allies like Saudi Arabia, Israel, and Egypt have been deteriorating in the past few years, whereas it has been fostering closer ties with adversaries like Russia and Iran. Turkey has also openly supported Qatar, which is subject to a Saudi-led blockade on the basis of its alleged support for Islamist movements and its cooperation with Iran. This has further aggravated the rift with other regional powers, with detrimental consequences for US policy in the Middle East.
Ankara’s relations with Western capitals have also become more strained owing to democracy and human rights issues. Turkey has experienced an authoritarian drift since Recep Tayyip Erdogan first came to power in 2003, a trend that intensified following the failed coup of 2016 and the subsequent purges. The Kurdish population remains discriminated against, and the government denies or at best downplays the genocide of the Armenians and other populations during the aftermath of WWI. … [To read the full article, click the following LINK – Ed.]
Turkey’s Long-Running Flirtation with Russia Ömer Taşpinar Asia Times, Aug. 12, 2019
Anyone wanting to understand Ankara’s current military and political entanglements with Moscow needs to consider two factors: Turkey’s frustrations with the West and the historic drivers of Turkish-Russian friendship. While the former is well documented, the latter is seldom examined.
The conventional narrative about the history between Russia and Turkey is one of bitter enmity based on imperial rivalry. The Ottomans and Romanovs fought more than a dozen wars during the 18th and 19th centuries. Almost all ended badly for Istanbul, so historians must find current references to the friendship between the “sultan” and the “czar” highly amusing. Yes, Erdogan and Putin are two patriarchs running their domestic fiefdoms with imperial nostalgia, but their predecessors were too busy waging war to concern themselves with the pursuit of cordial relations.
The post-imperial era does, however, yield some explanations. For a start, the emergence of modern Turkey as a sovereign nation-state in 1923 was made possible in great part thanks to Soviet military support. It was Bolshevik Russia, under Lenin, that came to the rescue of Kemal Ataturk during the 1919-1922 Turkish war of independence. The Soviets rightly saw in the Anatolian military mobilization of Mustafa Kemal an anti-imperialist resistance movement against Western colonizers.
That support from Russia at such a critical stage of Turkish history still resonates with the nationalist establishment in Ankara. But to understand the Russo-Turkish relationship even better, one must also study modern Turkey’s deeply rooted resentment of Western powers.
Under Ataturk, the new Turkish Republic tried hard to erase its Ottoman past, but erasing centuries of distrust toward the West proved much more difficult. The Ottoman Empire was never officially colonized but the agonizingly long imperial decline was a product of military defeat and humiliation at the hands of Western powers. Even today, the infamous Sevres Treaty of 1920 – dividing what was left of the Ottoman Empire among Britain, France, Italy and Greece – remains a very powerful symbol of nefarious Western intentions in the Turkish collective memory.
In stark contrast, Russian support for Turkish independence is remembered fondly and with gratitude. Not surprisingly, a populist like President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has mastered the art of exploiting this skepticism of the West, frequently portraying military engagement with Russia – such as the purchase of the S-400 missile defense system – as a step toward independence from the United States.
“We don’t take orders from Washington,” Erdogan declared recently in defiance of looming US sanctions. “We need to develop our own national missile defense system and our own national defense industry. Cooperation with Russia on technology transfer and joint production will take us in that direction,” he added to cheering crowds chanting Turkish independence slogans.
Such pronouncements are clear reminders that Turkey still considers Russia a useful source of leverage in its quest for more independence from the West. That longing for sovereignty and neutrality has strong roots in modern Turkish history. Ankara strove hard to avoid choosing between the US and the Soviet Union until Josef Stalin made territorial demands in 1945. Turkey also managed to stay on the margins of World War II by not supporting the Allies against Germany. Neutrality, however, did not look like a viable option during the Cold War, and in 1952, Turkey joined the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. … [To read the full article, click the following LINK – Ed.]