Ankara, Turkey (TFC) – As negotiations between the major state actors in the Syrian conflict continue without a solid solution; Turkey has used the confusion on the ground to continue military actions to gain territory. The targets include both US and Russian allies – the two leading nations in the Syrian negotiations – leaving Turkey in an increasingly lonely quest to retain dominance.
The “cessation of hostilities”, opening besieged areas to humanitarian aid and facilitating talks between the Assad regime and Syrian opposition are agreed to be the first plausible stepping stones of negotiations taking place in Munich. Still; even this low bar seems out of reach with recent counterproductive actions by military actors in and around Syria.
The United States and Russia; still in disagreement over visions for the future Syrian government, have agreed that the nation’s best hope is to be kept intact to restore control and order. The largest roadblock – the future of Syrian president Bashar Al-Assad – continues to make diplomacy difficult between major powers looking to protect their interests. With Assad as a close Russian ally the request for his retention of power has led to troubles with groups of “rebels” within Syria who refuse to negotiate despite warnings from US leaders urging that “not attending legitimizes Assad.”
The opposition which had originally aligned with the US has clearly begun to lose support; possibly due to the ineffectiveness of the policy of flooding Syria with weapons. Refusing to attend the talks has bolstered the Russian position that the opposition is not to be trusted and placing pressure on other parties to acknowledge that they have lost control and reconsider strategy. The chilling of relations with these groups along with new international cooperation with Russia is the latest source of tension in the region.
Now that the assumed responsibility for Syria has moved from the US and their regional allies to a more joint effort between Russia and the US the former spearhead nations (in both air campaigns and supplying arms) like Turkey and Saudi Arabia aren’t pleased. The clock is now ticking for these two countries’ ambitions now that there have been victories by the Syrian and Russian military campaign and it now appears that this won’t be the end of Assad.
Turkey has already made it clear in their handling of the conflict – with constant attacks on Kurdish fighters engaging IS – that US ambitions are not Turkish ambitions. The Kurds; remain one of the most effective militias in the region, who receive military aid and support from the US but up until recently relations with Turkey were of a higher priority. Presumably, the Turks thought this policy would continue as they escalated tensions by continuing to fight everyone, except IS, including Russia.
Turkey – as expected – has opposed Assad from the beginning of the conflict; even going as far as to trade accusations of which state supports IS. Although the US may have been behind this policy before now that the US engaged in talks with Russia it is becoming more obvious that the Turkish intimidation is not supported by the West. The Turks did not learn their lesson after downing a Russian fighter jet and getting a response from the US to resolve it without their help. The Turks instead doubled down and continued attacks on the Kurds and began attacks on Syrian government forces. The West has shown no interest in entering into a conflict with Russia on behalf of Turkey and now US leaders are finally calling on Turkey to halt the attacks. It will take cooperation of both superpowers to bring an end to the war in Syria and the US does not want Turkey to destroy the chance of diplomacy.
Both Eastern and Western powers are now entangled in a regional power struggle that blurs the lines of alliances in the Middle East. Some states which have been perceived as the closest US allies in the region are looking to handle Syria their own way; with or without us. Saudi Arabia has recently moved to reinforce Turkish military strength, violate Syrian sovereignty, and to resolve the conflicts with The Kurds and Assad the way they choose. In order to maintain some type of dialogue with Russia; the US now has to attempt to reign in the monsters it has unleashed in what was originally a move to overthrow Assad. If the only solution is a deal brokered by the US, Russia and compliant allies then the new rogue states will have to enter the fold or be confronted. The question is now; if Turkey and Saudi Arabia end up needing to be dealt with violently – who will be responsible for that war?