Turkey’s interests in Syria tilt away from Russia toward U.S. - columnist

Turkey increasingly has reason to work with the United States in Syria, where the complex situation has placed its deal with Moscow to prevent conflict in Idlib in serious peril, said Habertürk news site columnist Muharrem Sarıkaya on Friday. 

Turkey and the United States last week started efforts to establish a joint operations centre in Turkey for a planned safe zone in northern Syria. The advances of the Syrian government forces backed by Moscow in neighbouring Idlib has put Turkey under the risk of a new refugee influx from the province which is home to 3 million people according to UN estimates. 

The situation in Idlib shows that Turkey and Russia’s interests in Syria have been diverging because Moscow’s support for Damascus risks Turkey’s efforts to secure its borders by keeping Idlib as a buffer zone, Sarıkaya said. The number of issues that the two countries can agree on decreases each day, the columnist said.

Ankara and Moscow in September agreed to establish a de-escalation zone in Idlib to prevent a possible offensive by Syrian forces against the last major rebel-held enclave in the country. Turkey assumed the responsibility of removing jihadi fighters and established 12 observation posts in the region.

The Syrian government started a military incursion into Idlib in April, after the jihadi group Tahrir al-Sham (HTS) gained dominance in the province and launched attacks on neighbouring areas despite Moscow’s demands from Turkey to clear it from the de-escalation zone.

Syrian forces entered the town of Khan Sheikhoun this week, effectively cutting off Turkish troops at a military post near the town of Morek, 70 kilometres (45 miles) inside Syria.

“The Idlib agreement, which helped both Russia and Turkey save time, had worked like aspirin by easing the crisis for some time, but eventually what had been expected happened and it has started to deepen the problem,” Sarıkaya said.  

“The Syrian seesaw changed positions again. While partnership opportunities have increased on the east of the River Euphrates where the United States is dominant, they have decreased in places where Russia is dominant,” he said. 

Sarıkaya said a trilateral summit between Turkey, Russia, and Iran on Sept. 16 might fail to solve the diverging interests of Moscow and Ankara.