Erdoğan claims that the sole purpose of Turkey’s military invasion in Northern Syria is to liberate the country of ‘Tyrant’ President Bashar al-Assad, which is sure to worry those walking the corridors of power in Moscow, adding more complexity to the conflict raging in the Middle-East.
- Turkish-Russian relations on the line.
- A rare sign of encouragement for the EU and US?
- Is Erdoğan leaning too heavily on his domestic popularity and migrant bargaining chip?
“Why did we enter? We do not have an eye on Syrian soil. The issue is to provide lands to their real owners. That is to say we are there for the establishment of justice. We entered there to end the rule of the tyrant al-Assad who terrorizes with state terror. [We didn’t enter] for any other reason,” the President is quoted as saying at the Inter-Parliamentary Jerusalem Platform Symposium in Istanbul, by Hurriyet Daily.
Although his disdain for the Assad regime is well-publicised, Erdoğan’s claim has perturbed a Russian administration with whom Turkey’s ties had only recently been patched up. The downing of a Russian fighter jet along the border with Syria in November 2015 (in which the pilot was killed) led to a substantial decrease in diplomacy between the two nations.
A detente was reached only in October this year, when Erdoğan visited the Kremlin offering an apology and a confirmation of the ‘Turkish Stream’ gas pipeline under the Black Sea. Erdoğan’s clarification of Turkey’s position veers away from the country’ perceived intention to push back the Kurdish forces advance along the Syria/Turkey border.
The Russian consternation at the comments was evident in an announcement by Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov, “It is a very serious statement and one which differs from previous ones and with our understanding of the situation. We hope that our Turkish partners will provide us with some kind of explanation about this.”
Erdogan’s statement amounts close to a declaration of war against Assad regime and hence Russia. Turkey is still a NATO nation
— Gregor Peter (@L0gg0l) November 29, 2016
A boon for the West?
While the feeling north of the Caucasus is clear, it remains to be seen how the comments will be taken by the EU and the US. A rare common cause between the entities could be perceived to be good news for the US and its European partners involved in the Syrian Civil War.
While the specific role of Erdoğan’s military in Syria has been questioned, Turkish forces have purportedly attacked ISIS positions giving welcome assistance in the efforts to destroy the terror organisation and its self proclaimed caliphate.
— Ahmad Alkhatib (@AhmadAlkhtiib) November 14, 2016
A clarification of Turkey’s intent to remove Assad from power could potentially swing the balance in their favor.
However, with the transition to a Trump administration keen on improving relations with Russia, as well as Russia’s doubling down on efforts to stabilise the Assad regime (exemplified by the continued bombardment of rebels in eastern Aleppo), Erdoğan’s remarks will likely be seen as an unwelcome stirring of the pot.
A veil for increasing isolation and economic strife?
In the EU the increasing number of aggressive statements made by the President, continuing his predilection for using political rhetoric in advance of his aims, will be another worrying sign of the combative stance of the continent’s most strategically important country.
Having cancelled all discussion of EU membership as a result of his government’s increasingly authoritarian purge following the attempted coup in July, Erdoğan has threatened to use the 2.5 million refugees Turkey is accommodating as a weapon against the policies of Brussels.
Erdogan threatens EU after the suspension of accession to open the gates for refugees. Refugees are no more than a leverage tool for him pic.twitter.com/qXrzE4PEGd
— Barbarossa (@BarbarossaKaya) November 25, 2016
At home, despite maintaining high popularity amongst much of the populace, there is growing discontent at the state of the economy. Since the July 15th coup attempt there has been a continuing devaluing of the Turkish Lira. This has been exacerbated by the Dollar’s boom attributed to Trump’s election and the cancellation of EU accession talks, resulting in a decrease of 10% against the dollar in the past month according to the Middle East Eye.
#Turkey‘s Economy Is Plummeting
War, E.U’s freezing membership, sponsoring terrorism, shut down of democracy all will cause a recession. pic.twitter.com/GsINZ7vNCU
— Ari Murad (@DrAriMurad) November 29, 2016
As such, Erdoğan’s comments, while a potential welcome support to those seeking the removal of Assad, are another sign of an embattled leader looking to use signs of outward strength to divert attention from domestic weaknesses. What this means for the conflict in Syria is unclear, but what is certain is that all interested parties will be monitoring the moves of this increasingly unpredictable player with an eagle eye.