An analysis by Glenn These

Over the past 500 years, Russia and Turkey have waged at least twelve wars against each other. Now the two historical rivals are going on a confrontational course again without a tsars or Ottomans – this time in Syria. As the two countries engage as rival factions in the bloody conflicts in Syria and across the Middle East, these conflicts have paradoxically brought the two powers closer together. So close that it is even a headache for NATO.

A major breakthrough in bilateral relations between Moscow and Ankara became apparent when Turkey, despite threats from the US, bought the Russian S-400 air defense system. The US then imposed sanctions on Ankara and threw Turkey out of the F-35 program. Even a meeting between President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and his US counterpart Joe Biden did nothing to improve relations.

However, the recent meeting between Erdoğan and President Vladimir Putin in Sochi suggests that a major Russian-Turkish deal may be in preparation. A defense cooperation agreement may be in sight, including the purchase of a second shipment of S-400 air defense systems, submarines, aircraft engine and jet fighter technology.

A military partnership of this magnitude would likely go hand in hand with a political settlement of the Syrian conflict. In the meantime, the immense scope of these military arrangements and possible political arrangements regarding Syria would further alienate Turkey from the US, and Washington will likely find itself obliged to impose additional sanctions on its “NATO ally”.

But how did it come to this?

The mistake in Syria

Similar to the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, the US war against the Syrian government had catastrophic results. Turkey previously had good relations with Damascus and first had to be convinced by the US to support the war for a regime change against Damascus. It was expected that Assad would be overthrown in a short time and that Turkey would establish cordial relations with the new administration established by Washington. However, the series of US-led wars for regime change in the Middle East was interrupted when Russia unexpectedly intervened militarily in the region in 2015 and effectively turned the tide in Damascus’ favor.

The main source of tension between the US and Turkey is Washington’s support for the Syrian Kurds. The importance of the US partnership with the Kurds continued to grow as Russia urged the US military to change their strategy. Although the US has not yet succeeded in overthrowing Assad, it is trying to help shape the country’s political future by illegally occupying a third of Syrian territory, primarily the resource-rich region in northeastern Syria, from which the US is stealing oil and wheat. To this end, it is important to work with the Syrian Kurds. Washington considers the YPG to be the most effective military partner in the region, a group that sees Ankara as a terrorist organization that threatens to destabilize the Kurdish regions of Turkey.

Turkey is also concerned that the US will retain the option of playing the card of an autonomous Kurdistan. The promotion of an autonomous or independent Kurdish state would destabilize and weaken four states with large Kurdish populations – namely Iran, Iraq, Syria and Turkey. Israel would likely support such a strategy, and US politicians have openly brought up the idea of ​​Balkanizing Syria.

Turkish government officials have historically accused Washington of being behind the July 2016 coup against Erdoğan in Turkey. The Turkish president responded by purifying the state apparatus and the military from transatlantic supporters of the Gülenists led by Fethullah Gülen – around 140,000 government employees and 30,000 military personnel were removed from their offices and functions. Put simply, Erdoğan got rid of an army of pro-American NATO loyalists in Turkey. A cabal of American neoconservative hawks under the leadership of John Bolton reacted with anger to this “purge” and the associated pro-Russia policy of Ankara and launched the “Turkish Democracy” project in 2021, which aims at regime change in Ankara. The deterioration in relations between Turkey and the US is thus entering another round.

The language of the “NATO ally” Turkey is meanwhile unprecedented. Ankara accuses the US of supporting terrorism against Turkey because of its partnership with the Syrian Kurds, and Ankara demands that Washington end the occupation of Syrian territory and withdraw.

On the way to a Russian-Turkish agreement?

The complexity of the conflict in Syria makes a Russian-Turkish agreement difficult, but incentives for this are now emerging more and more. Russia wants an end to the war in Syria and the restoration of the government’s territorial control over its territory. Meanwhile, Turkey wants the Syrian Kurdish problem to be resolved and believes that the best way to do this is to restore Syrian territorial sovereignty. Domestically, there are tensions between the Turkish public and the huge community of Syrian refugees in Turkey itself, which could be resolved by pacifying the conflict. In addition, Turkey has failed to moderate and domesticate the jihadists it is deploying as proxy warriors in Idlib Province, a region that the Syrian government will most likely recapture in the near future.

The rhetoric in Washington about Moscow’s attempt to pull Ankara out of the American orbit into the Russian sphere of influence misjudges the multipolar international distribution of power. Turkey does not want to switch from a US-led military alliance to a Russia-led one because the bipolarity of the Cold War is long gone. Rather, Turkey wants to assert itself as an independent actor in a multipolar system that pursues relationships with all major centers of power. At the same time, Russia has neither the ability nor the intention to seek hegemony.

Russia’s “Great Eurasian Partnership” was conceived as a project against hegemonic ambitions. Russia, in partnership with China, wants to counter American ambitions by allowing the great powers in the greater Eurasia region to diversify their economic connectivity. Turkey’s ambitions for an independent and diversified foreign policy can easily be accommodated in the Grand Eurasian Partnership, with which the bloc politics of the Cold War – including NATO – can be replaced.

A landmark deal between Russia and Turkey, in line with the Great Eurasian Partnership, may not materialize. But the previous unipolar order is collapsing because the West is making another catastrophic attempt to promote regime change.

more on the subject – After meeting with Putin: Erdoğan demands money back from the USA for F-35 jets

RT DE strives for a wide range of opinions. Guest contributions and opinion articles do not have to reflect the editorial team’s point of view.

Translated from the English. 

Glenn this one is professor at the University of Southeast Norway and editor of the journal Russia in Global Affairs. You can follow him on Twitter at @glenn_diesen.

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