Intel: Erdogan abandons balancing act in Syria, targets Russia

al-monitor Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan attends a ceremony marking the formal launch of the TurkStream pipeline, which will carry Russian natural gas to southern Europe through Turkey, in Istanbul, Turkey, Jan. 8, 2020. Photo by REUTERS/Umit Bektas.

Topics covered

recep tayyip erdogan, idlib, turkish-russian relations, turkish intervention in syria, astana process

Jan 29, 2020

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan criticized Russia directly for the first time in a long while in the wake of the recent escalation in northwestern Syria. 

Lashing out at intense Russian airstrikes in and around Idlib, Erdogan said Russia “doesn’t comply” with the 2018 Sochi agreement to establish a demilitarized zone around the last stronghold of the Syrian rebels where the Syrian regime's advances continue.

“The Astana process has become moribund,” Erdogan said, speaking to reporters on his return from Senegal late Wednesday. “Turkey, Russia and Iran should seek a way to revive it.” The talks in the Kazakh capital — initiated by Erdogan and Russian President Vladimir Putin and also involving Iran — first began three years ago to find a solution to the Syrian conflict but have recently stalled.

Why it matters: As Turkey’s relations with the Western powers and regional countries took a nosedive following Ankara’s unilateral moves in Libya and the eastern Mediterranean Sea, Erdogan’s remarks targeting Russia came as a surprise.

His statement coincides with Turkey’s deepening isolation among Western and regional powers due to its Libyan venture and actions in the eastern Mediterranean. Yesterday’s phone call between Erdogan and US President Donald Trump was the latest manifestation of the discord, as the two sides framed the conversation differently. While the White House emphasized the “need to eliminate foreign interference and maintain the cease-fire in Libya,” Erdogan said it was “mainly a courtesy call” in the aftermath of the earthquake that hit eastern Turkey over the weekend.

Turkey has avoided directly criticizing Moscow until now, given its deepening isolation in the current political climate. Erdogan’s statement came at a time when Russian side is said to be considering backing Turkey’s position in the energy rivalry over hydrocarbon resources in the eastern Mediterranean to convince Ankara to soften its position against the Syrian Kurdish groups.

What’s next: Following Erdogan’s statements, the ball is now in Moscow’s court. Syrian government forces backed by intense Russian airstrikes have made significant advances over the last week and captured several towns to the south of Idlib. Two of Turkey’s 12 observation posts set up as part of the Sochi deal have been under siege and the fate of the rest remains uncertain.

Know more: Read Bryant Harris’ latest story for more on the Trump-Erdogan phone call and Fehim Tastekin’s take on the future of Turkish-Russian relations.

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