Since this February, political tensions have become worse with each passing day among the Ankara-Moscow-Damascus triangle.
Military impasse in Idlib
Ankara insists on maintaining control of Idlib while the Syrian government continues its military campaign against the rebel groups in the region with the support of the Russian army.
Russian military support to the Syrian government against the Turkish-backed rebels has naturally provoked political and military conflicts between Ankara and Moscow, despite the fact that the two had developed relatively good economic, political and military relations.
The end of Ankara’s balancing act
Turkey’s answer to Russia’s support for the Syrian government was a political shift back toward Washington.
In an interview with CNN Turk, Turkish Minister of Defense Hulusi Akar made yet another attempt at striking a political balance between Washington and Moscow.
Akar said that “Turkey does not have any intention to be at odds with Russia, the negotiations will continue based on the terms set by the Sochi agreement.” He added that “there are no doubts regarding the activation of the S-400 missile defense systems.”
However, in the same interview, Akar did not hesitate to say that he had been talking with the United States about the possibility of purchasing Patriot missile defense systems. That same week, Turkish authorities called on NATO forces to intervene in Idlib and join the fight against the Syrian government.
Prima facie, Akar’s statements about Turkish relations with Moscow and Washington seem to be contradictory. However, when you analyze the central trends in the Turkish politics in the long term, it is clear that this is another attempt at striking a geopolitical balance.
Nonetheless, the military and the political reality in Idlib will no longer allow Ankara to pursue this strategy: the limits of the approach have been reached.
Turkish foreign policy
Akar’s statements, alongside those by other Turkish authorities, clearly shows that Turkey does not want to break off from Moscow and return back to Washington given the US’ role in the coup attempt on July 15, 2016 and continued support for terrorist organizations such as FETO and the PKK/YPG.
On the other hand, Turkey is disturbed by Moscow’s support for the Syrian government. Ankara wants to keep the US and NATO as alternatives to balance out pressure from Moscow in Syria.
Ankara is worried about the possibility of a new wave of migration from Idlib and does not want to give up its political hold in Syria.
At same time, PKK/YPG terrorist organizations are continuing their activities east of the Euphrates.
The only solution is regional cooperation
If the Moscow-Damascus front took steps against these terrorist organizations (the PKK/YPG/PYD), it could alleviate Turkey’s security concerns and push Ankara to negotiate the Idlib crisis with the Syrian government.
Statements and actions on both sides show that Ankara and Moscow want to maintain good relations despite the circumstances.
Moscow has to begin to understand Turkish concerns in Idlib, while the authorities in Ankara have to understand that there is no longer any possibility of maintaining a political balance between Washington and Moscow.
Cooperation is the only way forward for the countries of the region. The alternative is another decade of chaos which only the US stands to gain from.