Will Trump, Putin, and Erdogan be able to form a viable alliance?
- During the Obama presidency, Washington and Ankara disagreed on many Middle East issues
- Obama supported Syrian Kurdish forces in their fight against the Syrian regime and the Islamic State militants
- Russia and Turkey are closely coordinating their military offensives in Syria
The seeming rapprochement between Russia and Turkey is well under way. Their presidents have demonstrated time and again an authoritarian penchant that has deeply worried many democratic countries.
Russian President Putin and his Turkish counterpart Erdogan have apparently a couple of geostrategic interests in common. Turkey, although strongly opposed to Syrian President Assad’s regime, wants to see Syrian Kurdish forces lose their military capabilities as soon as possible.
Erdogan believes that this will help quell any Kurdish nationalistic ambitions in Turkey or elsewhere. The Turkish president is also looking for a more expanded role for Ankara in the Middle East.
Furthermore, Turkey is seeking to curb Iran’s increasing influential presence in the Arab world. Erdogan may need the assistance of the United States to achieve that ever-elusive goal.
During the Obama presidency, Washington and Ankara disagreed on many Middle East issues, among them Syria and Iraq. The Trump administration might be more forthcoming and cooperate
with Erdogan when the geopolitical interests of both countries converge.
Although Putin and Erdogan have undoubtedly authoritarian credentials, Trump has to prove himself in order to join their infamous league.
Hopefully, the American system of government (checks and balances, etc.) will bridle Trump’s authoritarian inclinations.
Some Trump foreign policy advisors have expressed support for Erdogan and promoted closer cooperation with Ankara. Trump would probably not interfere in Turkey’s domestic affairs, even if Erdogan continues abusing the human rights of many of its citizens.
Obama supported Syrian Kurdish forces in their fight against the Syrian regime and the Islamic State militants. Although the autonomous Kurdish area in Syria has not been sanctioned by the United States, it wasn’t officially opposed by Washington either.
This was a significant irritant and one of the major reasons why relations between Washington and Ankara soured. Will Trump and Erdogan resolve this thorny issue, especially with Putin thrown in the middle?
WILL MOSCOW AND ANKARA COOPERATE ON THE KURDISH ISSUE?
Kurdish population in Syria is estimated at 1.5 million, while Kurds form a sizable minority (more than 15 million) in Turkey. They also have a fairly functioning autonomous region in Iraq and close to 5 million live in Iran.
Negotiations to resolve the Syrian crisis are taking place in Kazakhstan and Iran, Russia, and Turkey are the main sponsors. According to Ankara, Moscow is a reliable partner in the conflict, with Tehran supporting the Syrian dictator Assad.
Erdogan’s main concern now is not Assad, although he predicted and longed for the Syrian leader’s prompt demise, but the presence and expansion of the Kurdish autonomous region in Syria.
How far is the Turkish president willing to go? Will he shake hands with the Syrian autocrat to score diplomatic points in Syria, especially its northern region and strengthen his position in Ankara, especially in light of attempts to increase the executive’s presidential powers in the Turkish constitution?
Russia and Turkey are closely coordinating their military offensives against the jihadists in Syria, with Moscow’s blessing of course. Iran is not pleased with the Turkish military incursion in northern Syria. Both Tehran and Ankara are trying to establish their respective zones of influence in both Syria and Iraq.
Hopefully, these coordinated military offensives will not target Syrian Kurdish forces who were and still are Washington’s dependable allies. However, let’s not forget that politics is the art of the possible. . . .
Since Russia is the only superpower participating in the Kazakhstan talks, President Putin would like to see the negotiations succeed. By ending the civil war, he will be credited for saving thousands of innocent lives. Putin will undoubtedly increase his stature in the Middle East and on the world stage.
No matter the uncertainties and ambiguities that usually accompany talks to end civil wars, Trump should not leave Putin decide on his own the future of Syria and maybe of other countries.
POSSIBLE SCENARIO: Putin and Trump will sooner or later clash over divergent geopolitical interests. Trump cannot afford to sit on the sidelines and let events play out and have Putin call all the shots.