Suddenly, the Syrian government, Egyptian government and an increasingly confused US as well as major EU powers are speaking in unison against Turkey’s anti-YPG Operation Olive Branch.
This demonstrates a masterstroke in the joint diplomatic strategy of Russia, Syria and Turkey which although it does not officially exist, it has nevertheless been proved to be very real judging by the events on the ground in northern Syria, as well as the adversarial statements emanating from Damascus, aimed at Ankara.
The following represent the “official” situation surrounding Turkey’s Operation Olive Branch:
–Syria’s position remains totally consistent in so far as it condemns any unapproved foreign incursions onto its territory whether by a state or a non-state terrorist group.
–Turkey, while still occasionally offering anti-Damascus rhetoric, has pivoted the majority of its rhetoric. Now, the most numerous and most bold statements coming from Turkish officials regarding the conflict in Syria are focused on slamming the United States and its Kurdish proxies (whether it be the YPG, PYD, SDF or ‘Border Force’).
–Turkey’s military strategy follows this pivot as large numbers of Turkish military advisors and their Arab proxies fighting under the FSA flag have evacuated Idlib Governorate and joined the Turkish Army in northern Aleppo Governorate as part of Operation Olive Branch.
–Egypt has condemned Turkey which is unsurprising due to President Sisi and President Erdogan’s longstanding feud stemming from Turkey’s support of the ousted Muslim Brotherhood regime in Cairo, but also due to Turkey’s warming relations with Sudan, a country with whom Egypt has serious disputes.
–France has spoken for the broader ‘western alliance’ and called for a UN Security Council meeting due to western ‘concerns’ over Operation Olive Branch.
–Russia has expressed very muted concern about Operation Olive Branch, while Turkey insists that Russia has given a green light to the anti-Kurdish operation.
When taken at face value, this means that the US, France (which represents Europe more widely on the UNSC) and Egypt are now voicing a position that is more in-line with that of President al-Assad’s Syrian government than that of Syrian ally Russia and NATO member Turkey.
But far from a new alignment of states in the Syrian conflict or the Middle East more widely, this is all part of a diplomatic strategy designed to sow confusion among the western occupiers of Syria, while exposing their position as increasingly untenable in both military and political terms.
It has always been clear that Russia, as the primary superpower involved in the Syrian conflict, would not allow and indeed has not allowed direct military engagement between the Turkish Army and the Syrian Arab Army. It is also clear that Russia’s long-term strategy values its partnerships with Syria and Turkey equally. Because of this, one could say that due to Turkey’s larger economy and influence, Turkey is now slightly more important for Russia, in spite of the fact that the historic loyalty between Damascus and Moscow remains unbroken.
The key for Moscow is to allow events on the ground to show Damascus and Ankara that they both have a common enemy. This enemy is the Kurdish terror group YPG and moreover their American patrons. The legal consistency of Syria’s position allows Damascus the unique ability to condemn the YPG, United States and Turkey without losing credibility.
The US at this stage, cannot say a great deal to condemn Turkey without putting the structure of NATO at risk. At the same time, the US needs its Kurdish proxies to maintain a fig leaf of pseudo-legitimacy for its technically and practically illegal occupation of eastern Syria. The US is boxed into a corner.
The US has committed itself to a long-term occupation of Syria and requires good will among Kurdish militants in order to make this possible, as every other faction in Syria, with the exception of small and inconsequential Takfiri groups, now want the US out of the country. At the same time, the US cannot risk provoking Turkey more than it already has due to the fact that the US houses multiple aircraft as well as nuclear weapons at Turkey’s İncirlik Airbase.
In this sense, the Astana format which sees Russia, Iran and Turkey cooperating on an official level with Damascus agreeing to all the major decisions of the Astana Group have jointly stalemated America’s ambitions in Syria. Furthermore, it is a stalemate that could easily become a checkmate if the US decides to abandon Syria and let Turkey become the major occupying power in northern Syria. The US would be equally checkmated if exposed as aiding the YPG and other Kurdish militants in their fight against the Turkish Army which happens to be the second largest in NATO.
Unverified reports indicate that Syria and Turkey are discussing matters concerning Operation Olive Branch and while these reports may be untrue, Russia is certainly acting as a go-between for both Ankara and Damascus.
Out of this arrangement, it appears that Russia’s green-lighting of Operation Olive Branch has resulted in Turkey pulling its militants/mercenaries out of Idlib which has allowed for a rapid advance of the Syrian Arab Army in the most fortified Takfiri region of the country. Furthermore, by allowing Turkey to fight Kurdish insurgents on behalf of all the enemies of the pro-US Kurds, Turkey is doing Syria’s dirty work with Russia’s tacit diplomatic and military approval.
While Turkey and Syria will likely remain publicly at odds, not least due to the sensitivities of Syrian supporters of President al-Assad and Turkish supporters of President Erdogan, this series of events has helped Turkey’s putatively anti-Assad Arab militants/mercenaries join a wider pan-Arab struggle against pro-western/pro-Zionist Kurdish militants. Such moves serve to re-Arabise a conflict which until now had been drawn upon the sectarian lines of those seeking to destroy Syria’s historic Arab unity. This will go a long way in helping to reconcile extremist Sunni Arab factions with the majority of pro-government Syrians at the forthcoming Syrian National Dialogue Congress in Sochi. Likewise, if Erdogan is able to fulfil his desire to eliminate the YPG/PYD/PKK, it will help Turkey feel satisfied that remaining Kurdish factions invited to Sochi by Russia, are those which have fully rejected the terroristic tendencies of the previously mentioned groups.
The United States has effectively been beaten at its own game. Washington cannot and will not openly agree with the Syrian government, however much they might now wish they could do in order to spare their Kurdish proxies from Turkey’s military might. Washington also cannot abandon its Kurds without abandoning Syria while by the same token, the US cannot arm Turkey’s enemies and expect Turkey to remain part of NATO.
To conclude, Russia’s diplomatic manoeuvres along with Iran’s wise position of silence on sectarian matters combined with support for Syria’s legal position, have helped to bring Turkey and Syria closer together—all the while Syria and Turkey’s overtly antagonistic public rhetoric leaves the US with little more to say.