In the last 2 decades the Middle East has seen many shifting and unlikely alliances forged by similar interests, cooperation and sometimes downright mutual hate. None is more evident than the ongoing diplomatic and political relationship between Russia and Turkey over Syria and the Levant region. The two regional powers who, throughout history have fought many bloody battles between each other and vied for regional dominance over the other now seem to be forging a long term alliance. Many people on the outside have been surprised as of late at the two countries mutual cooperation in Syria and trying to de-escalate the conflict. One doesn’t have to look far to see how two unlikely enemies became allies and it lies in their mutual disrespect and hatred for Obama.
As Syria’s civil war was raging in late 2012, President Obama Authorized a secret CIA funded program called Operation Timber Sycamore to help the battered Syrian rebels as they fought against the regime of Bashar Al Assad. Initially this program was operated with the logistical help of turkey and at the time the Americans and Turks had a close working relationship in funneling arms and fighters into Syria. As the war raged on, with the formation of ISIS and the rising Kurdish YPG movement taking hold in eastern Syria on the border with turkey, shifting alliances were formed. Erdogan and Obama began to have diverging ideas about which rebels should receive funding and weapons and in this disagreement over policy began a political rift of nations. As ISIS continued to gain ground throughout 2014 turkey decided to take a more proactive role in sending NATO weapons and funds to groups that were not vetted by the US as moderate opposition. This caused a growing rift between Washington and Ankara as the two countries began to arm different groups, some who were hostile to each other to further their political aims on the ground. With a growing Kurdish Insurgency on his southern border and rising Kurdish tension inside turkey, president Erdogan launched operation Euphrates Shield against ISIS in northern Syria and also against the US backed YPG forces in Afrin. It slowly became clear to outside observers that the honeymoon that the US and Turkey once had when it came to arming the Syrian opposition was now turning into a nasty divorce.
Insert Russia. Russia’s involvement with the Syrian war came at a time when the Syrian regime seemed to be in its death throws. The Syrian Army, backed by Russian airpower slowly was able to turn the tide against the opposition and give Bashar Al Assad some much needed breathing room. As America and it’s proxies continued to arm and fund the YPG, A subgroup of the PKK in its battle to fight ISIS, it became clear to Erdogan and the Turks that the relationship with Washington had indeed gone sour. This was evident when turkey launched operation olive branch to displace the YPG from Afrin in Syria’s Northeast. With now open warfare between turkey and a US trained and funded group, Turkey began to seek alliances with uncommon and previous enemies. Recently the relationship has developed to where in the town of Tell Rifaat, Russian and Turkish soldiers have been conducting joint patrols together for months. Just recently in the town on Manbij that was recaptured from ISIS by the YPG in summer of 2016, locals had called for the YPG and the Americans to leave the city, twice erupting into protests that were then put down with gunfire. As tensions continued to rise in manbij last month the US announced it would pull out of the city and turn over security and patrol duty to joint Russian And Turkish patrols. These developments signal major changes and shifting alliances in Syria and the region as a whole. Russia who until recently had mostly lost its military and economic influence over the middle east now seems poised to re-assert itself. Recently Russia renewed a 100 year lease of the warm water port in Tartus and also made plans for a massive expansion of the naval base. What we are seeing from Russia that differs from the Americans in Syria is their use of force to achieve goals.While America seems to continue with the status quo of conquering by absolute force, the Russians seem to be using a softer approach in achieving it’s goals by sharing mutual goals and needs with regional powers. Turkey through trial and error has learned that trusting the Americans has gotten them hurt before, and it seems as though turkey now is willing to work with Russia, the enemy of America in Syria to further it’s goals. Russia and Turkeys unlikely alliance is a product of the idea that sometimes you have to work with people you don’t like in order to achieve a common benefit. What remains to be seen is will this just be a temporary partnership or could it shape up to have long lasting geopolitical implications? For that only time will tell….