Just last week, Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan hosted his Russian and Iranian counterparts in Ankara for talks to end the Syrian civil war. The summit of the three leaders was a strong display of unity against a backdrop of rising tensions between them and the United States. The underlying message was that the three countries were calling the shots in Syria, and that President Donald Trump’s announcement that the U.S. would be pulling out soon was right on the spot.
Turks must be careful what they wish for with Russia, Iran alliance - scholar
The Ankara Summit in early April was a “strong display” of cooperation between Russia, Turkey and Iran as uncertainty around the U.S. presence in Syria mounts. However, tensions and conflicts still hide behind the “warm handshakes,” Turkey Program director Gönül Tol wrote for the Washington-based Middle East Institute on Wednesday.
U.S. President Donald Trump’s announcements about a possible U.S. exit from Syria have at the very least signalled a lack of resolve from Washington on the Syria issue. A withdrawal, said Tol, could remove the “foreign policy headache” brought on by the United States’ alliance with the predominantly Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG), Turkey’s primary opponents in Syria.
However, such a development would not necessarily spell an end to the troubles of Ankara, or its new friends in Moscow and Tehran, according to the scholar. Rather, signs indicate that the very real potential exists for the three to end up in conflict against one another.
“If the U.S. is out of the picture in Syria, both Russia and Iran will be less sympathetic to Turkey’s efforts to contain the YPG,” wrote Tol, arguing that Moscow’s assent to Turkey’s operation against Kurdish forces was in large part motivated by a desire to strike a blow against Washington.
“Russia has long argued that the Kurds’ interests must be taken into consideration in the political settlement of the Syrian civil war,” said Tol.
Meanwhile, Russia and Iran have both made statements insisting that Ankara hand over to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad the northwest Syrian town of Afrin, which Turkey captured from YPG forces in March.
This statement may illustrate to Turkey that a conclusive turn towards Russia and Iran has its risks, wrote the scholar.
An American official once told me about a tense conversation between Turkish and American officials regarding the YPG. The U.S. side told the Turks that the Kurds would always be under someone’s control and that it was better for Ankara if that someone was the U.S. rather than Russia. The Turks rebuffed the idea at the time but they may find out soon that it might not be as wild as they thought.