Possible outcomes of Turkey’s meeting with Russia as Ankara’s operation in Syria looms - SÜLEYMAN SEYFI ÖĞÜN

Possible outcomes of Turkey’s meeting with Russia as Ankara’s operation in Syria looms

President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan recently declared to the world that Turkey will launch an essential military campaign in Syria. This announcement led to a strange silence worldwide. Besides the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), Iran was the most vocal party to openly declare its opposition to the operation.  

Russia’s statements, on the other hand, were quite moderate, which could in fact be interpreted as support—according to some groups. Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said, “The Turks cannot remain silent in the face of these developments.” Speaking on behalf of the U.S., Pentagon Press Secretary John F. Kirby stated that this operation “will lead to instability” (as if there was any stability), and that they are worried about what may unravel if it this op goes ahead. There is currently no clue about what position the U.S. will actually take. Strangely, Europe, which previously broke out a kerfuffle over such operations, largely maintained its silence.  

The timing of the operation is clearly on point. Some things are obvious at first glance. Let us first analyze the European side of the matter. Many think that Russia is the only side that is besieged and shut off as a result of the Russo-Ukraine war. Yet, this is a two-sided blockade. While Russia is being isolated, on the other side of the coin, the EU – primarily Germany and France – is being isolated from Eurasia and – particularly – from China. Europe is currently in a shriveled state. Perhaps, some of them regret having ostracized Turkey for decades. In this case, they must be thinking about about the consequences of pushing away Turkey, which is likely their greatest escape, and becoming more dependent on a parallel Europe the U.K. is trying to build. This might also be the reason behind their silence.  

Let’s turn to Russia now. Russia, excluded, cursed, and banished from the system by the “free West” due to the Ukraine War, is clearly no longer as powerful as it used to be. Turkey virtually represents a breathing ground for Russia. The Republic of Turkey is one of the rare states in this region through which Russia has been able to maintain its connection to the world to date—all due to the “unbiased” policies Ankara has been implementing. We can foresee that Russia is making great efforts to avoid losing Turkey as an ally. As I mentioned in my previous column, in the current conjuncture, if Russia is pressed to make a choice between Iran and Turkey, it will choose Turkey. If it chooses Iran instead, it will further deepen and almost confirm its exclusion in the eyes of the global public.  

On the other hand, they might be calculating that already-tense Israel-Russia relations will be damaged beyond repair if they take a position in favor of Iran. Syrian President Bashar Assad, who is shaken and in panic due to Russia’s current state, is attempting to fill the current void through Iran, even though this plan does not seem very viable. For starters, Israel will be strongly against this. If Iran goes too far, Israel will launch a sweeping operation from the south towards Syria – perhaps involving Lebanon as well. In this case, Iran’s Syrian-wing military organizations will be stuck between Turkey and Israel, most likely leading to a crushing defeat. Their smartest option would be to remain outside of Turkey’s operation, and avoid building an equation in Syria based on the Hashd al-Shaabi-PKK alliance, which they have been sustaining in Iraq. If they do this, in other words, if they push Turkey’s operation toward an indirect war between Turkey and Iran, it is almost certain that they will face a grave defeat. We partially know what Turkey wants to achieve through this operation: to drive the PKK 30 kilometers away from Turkey’s border. If Iran fights on PKK lines, it will get its own share from this, and enter Israel’s close range. The PKK-Hashd al-Shaabi partnership may additionally disturb the U.S., which has absolute authority over the PKK. Similar to relations between Russia and Israel, this may further sour U.S.-Israel relations, which started to deteriorate under U.S. President Joe Biden’s term in office. It seems that Iran is concerned about logistical losses through Turkey’s said operation. 

 It is clear that in the case that Iran and Russia avoid involvement, the Assad regime cannot follow through with its declaration that the “Syrian Army” will resist against Turkey’s operation.  

In the upcoming days, Ankara will host a Lavrov-led Russian committee. There are reports that Iran will send a committee as well. The aim of Iran’s likely visit, it seems, is to seek ways out of this operation with minimal loss, rather than to dissuade Turkey. Meanwhile, though Russia does not principally oppose the operation, Lavrov will sit at the table with a series of formulas aimed at ensuring Moscow’s interests will be affected minimally. We will closely monitor the upcoming developments. 

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