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Turkey, the U.S., Russia, and the Syrian Civil War

This commentary provides an analysis of the Turkey’s relations with the U.S. and Russia in the context of the Syrian civil war. Owing much to the dynamics of the Syrian civil war and the American support to the PYD/YPG, Ankara has recently made considerable changes in its foreign policy and its relations with Washington and Moscow. As the U.S. government has failed to understand Turkey’s security concerns, Turkey, despite being a NATO member, now seems to be closer to Moscow than to Washington.

Turkey the U S Russia and the Syrian Civil War
Turkish and U.S. troops conducted their second round of joint patrols in the northern Syrian city of Manbij on November 8, 2018. Turkish Ministry of National Defense/Handout /AA Photo
 

Although a member of NATO, which continues to stress its attachment to the alliance, in several policy areas Turkey is now closer to Moscow than to Washington. This paradox has been abruptly demonstrated by international reactions to the Turkish offensive in Northeastern Syria since October 2019. More broadly, it can also be seen as a delayed response to the end of the Cold War. Without the security threat from Russia, Turkish governments felt free to relax their relations with their northern neighbors, and develop political and economic relations with them. Changes in the Middle East have also been instrumental in this shift. Within the region, the most important transformation of the past decade has been the dramatic decline of American power, combined with the unexpected re-emergence of Russia as a powerful actor, especially in Syria. On the one side, America’s bitter experiences in Iraq between 2003 and 2012 sharply reduced domestic public support for any further military involvement in the region. America’s interests must be protected, it was urged, but with the minimum number of American boots on the ground. On the other side, Vladimir Putin, apparently unhindered by parliamentary or media opposition, was anxious to reassert Russia’s role as a global power after the disastrous years under Boris Yeltsin. In his campaign to rescue the Assad regime, as Russia’s only firm ally in the region, and with Iranian support, he has been given an almost free hand in Syria. Turkey, like other regional actors, cannot openly resist this: to play any effective role it is obliged to work through Russia, like it or not.


The Western powers’ failure to act put Russia in a position of dominance, and Assad was able to carry on the civil war for years to come


 

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