What Turkey expects from military operation in Idlib?

Intensive diplomatic traffic between the participants of the Astana mechanism for the settlement of Syrian conflict may indicate the next stage in the implementation of plans to stabilize the civil war. This time we are talking about elimination of the terrorist threat in the Syrian Idlib province. Obviously, the solution of the problem of terrorism is Turkey's interest in the conflict, prolonged consultations between Ankara and Moscow , however, show that Idlib's stabilization will not be possible without taking into account related Turkish interests.

One of the main foreign policy news of August was the meetings of Turkish and Russian officials. So, on August 17 and 24 Moscow was visited by the head of the Turkish military head Hulusi Akar and the National Intelligence director Hakan Fidan, the subject of the negotiations between the Turkish officials and their Russian counterparts were the technical details of the forthcoming military operation in Idlib. Political consultations between the parties were held on August 2, 14 and 24 as well, through the diplomatic channels. It is expected that relevant decisions between Russia and Turkey will be fixed at the highest level at the upcoming meeting of the heads of countries, most probably during the summit on September 7, in Iran.

Triumvirate for Syria

Much attention to such events is caused primarily by the weight of Russia and Turkey in Syrian affairs, especially in the military-political situation in Idlib, the last of the four de-escalation zones established within the framework of Astana agreements. In a province with a population of more than 2 million people there are reportedly more than 80,000 armed fighters, mainly supporters and members of the international terrorist organization like Nusra, affiliated with Al-Qaeda. It seems that Moscow and Ankara are engaged in political bargaining around the issue of how the terrorist threat will be tackled and what role moderate opposition groups can play within such measures.

Principle requirements of the Russian leadership deal with the need to destroy terrorist organizations in Idlib. As a justification, Russian diplomats negotiate agreements with Turkish and Iranian counterparts on joint offensive against radical groups designated by UN Security Council resolution 2401 on the list of terrorist groups. In addition, Russia's perseverance in implimentation of urgent measures against the terrorists in Idlib is dictated by the desire to stop the drone attacks on the Russian military facilities and positions of the Syrian army.

Turkey's new security concept may lead to
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Obviously, Russia all this time has been counting on Turkish cooperation, Ankara's influence could be used to control the whole territory of the province. However, the calculation was not justified, evidently due to Turkey's reluctance or inability to directly put pressure on terrorists and contribute to their dissolution. Finally, the need for an operation against terrorists is dictated by the desire of Russia to improve the situation in the territories under Turkey's control. Stability of political situation and security are the main conditions for the return of Syrian refugees, and with them, and a main prerequisite for a begin of a dialogue with Western countries on providing assistance for reconstruction in Syria.

The stumbling factor between Turkey and Russia has been the question of the need for a whole scale military operation. Turkey insists that the joint military operation of Syrian troops and Russian military in the province can trigger a new wave of Syrian refugees: according to estimates of the Turkish side, in the border provinces of Turkey may be 250-500 thousand people. In addition, Turkey fears that under the pretext of fighting terrorists, whose positions are often close to the places where moderate groups are deployed, the Syrian army can attack Turkish partners in Syria, thus jeopardizing the entire mechanism of cooperation within the framework of the Astana agreements.

The lengthy consultations between Turkish and Russian diplomats and the military can testify to the serious concerns of the Turks regarding the position of Ankara in the Syrian conflict in the long term. The change in the balance of power in Idlib, the last stronghold of the moderate opposition, is directly related to Turkey's participation in the formation of the future political system of Syria and its economic recovery.

Firstly, against the backdrop of the negotiations on Idlib, people began to talk about the less and less influential Turkey in the Syrian affairs. Everyone understands today that Turkey is compelled on many issues to compromise with the Russians due to the inadequacy of its own military strength and unwillingness to enter into a direct conflict with its Russian partners. If Turkey gives the green light to a limited military operation carried out even without the direct participation of the Turkish military, the image of the Turkish government in the eyes of the Syrians will be dealt another blow. After the actual surrender of Aleppo in 2016 and the liquidation of three of the four zones of de-escalation, the moderate opposition will cease to see Turkey as a reliable partner once the military operation in Idlib begins.

Turkey’s Kurdish issue clarifies political future of Erdogan

Secondly, the situation in Idlib is directly related to negotiations around the role of external players in the issue of Syria's reconstruction. Naturally, Russia is interested in attracting as many partners as possible. First of all, this concerns Turkey, which has a dynamic construction sector. However, participation in the distribution of contracts for the restoration of the Syrian infrastructure for Turkey today is difficult. Nevertheless, it is Ankara's control over the Syrian territories that allows the Turkish leadership to hope that trade and economic ties will pass through the border areas. Turkey is already investing in infrastructure development  in northern Aleppo. Stabilization of the situation in Idlib can open the way for Turkish investments in this province.

Finally, talks about Idlib's future may be related to Turkey's position regarding the ongoing negotiations between the Syrian Kurds and Damascus. Today, Turkey has to admit that it has lost all instruments of political and diplomatic influence on the Syrian Kurds, who are trying to build autonomy in the north of Syria. Military operations in Africa and neighboring border areas show that Turkey will be ready to go to military escalation against Kurdish militants linked to the Turkish terrorist organization Kurdistan Workers' Party. Obviously, Turkey can try to exchange its consent to a limited operation in Idlib to make concessions on the issue of confronting the Kurdish nationalists. One of the possible deals may be the transfer of the Kurdish territories around Tell-Rifaat to the control of pro-Turkish forces.

Originally published: https://iz.ru/783466/timur-akhmetov/po-kraiu-na-chto-rasschityvaet-turtciia-v-siriiskom-idlibe


Devaluation of Turkish lira and public reaction

The hottest days in Turkey fall on the beginning of August, but this year August has become a test for the Turkish lira. Over the year, the national currency has managed to lose 40% of its value against the dollar. The recent fall of the lira in the first decade of August has taken place against the backdrop of a serious diplomatic conflict between Turkey and the United States. At the centre of the scandal is the fate of Christian American pastor Andrew Branson, accused by Turkey of the links with terrorist organizations. The trial of the pastor has been going since 2016, and only at the end of July this year the local court decided to transfer the accused under house arrest.

The US president repeatedly applied the Turkish leadership for the release of Branson. In turn, the Turkish government tried to play the pastor card in exchange for a number of concessions in the court case against the Turkish state bank Halkbank, to which the US authorities are about to make a huge fine of 49 billion dollars for helping the Iranian regime to bypass the US sanctions in 2012-2013.

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Donald Trump insisted that the official charges against the pastor were far-fetched, and this was clearly considered in Ankara as an attack against the judicial authorities of the state, as a hint of politicization of the courts. It is not easy to bargain with the Turks, and at some point the US leadership ran out of patience. At the end of July, Turkey was given the ultimatum: the release of the pastor or sanctions.

The Turkish government clearly could not release the pastor-missionary — the flywheel of nationalism mixed with populist attacks against the United States had long been spinned. The language of ultimatums was doomed to cause the opposite effect on such a principled politician as Erdoğan. As a result, Turkey and the United States mutually imposed personal sanctions against a number of officials, as well as increased customs duties on imports of goods.

The escalation of Turkey's political conflict with the world's largest economy alarmed the investors. The cause of the concern for the stability of the Turkish economy laid in Turkey's vulnerability to global speculative attacks: the state is used to living beyond its means. With the advent of the Justice and Development Party to power in 2002, the government paid less attention than necessary to the development of local production while stimulating consumption. Turkish producers, as well as exporting companies, are forced to import raw materials using funds from external sources. There is no free money in the country. The economic model of development led to high levels of consumption with a low resource base of the country and high debt of the non-state sector to external creditors.

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People react differently to the fall in the lira rate. An important role is played by the presence of citizens of funds that potentially need to be saved from depreciation. However, the situation is affected by the attitude (read — trust) to the current government. The Turks are great patriots, while excessive patriotism does not always allow them to adequately assess the situation in the country. You can often hear the opinion that if a person buys bread (traditionally the price of bread served in Turkey as one of the indicators of the economic situation in the country) in liras then why he needs to worry about the increase in the value of the dollar…

Such people naively see Turkey as a self-sufficient power. But this is far from the case. The share of imports in the production of agricultural fertilizers in Turkey is 80-90%, the production of agricultural machinery depends on the import of components, and they account for at least 50%. On the other hand, Turkish farmers borrow from banks, which in turn are forced to borrow abroad. The situation could be corrected by labour productivity in agriculture, however, and here the situation looks depressing: with the share of 7% of GDP, it attracts 19% of the labour force in the country.

Even at the very high of the news of the fall of the lira and the possible closure of a number of banks in the country there was no mass panic. The reason is simple – most people have nothing to save. If in 2002 the volume of consumer loans in Turkey was at the level of 6,5 billion liras, then in 2018 the amount was 500 billion liras. The share of loans of citizens accounts for a quarter of all debts of the banking sector. With the deterioration of the economic situation, people hope for a partial amnesty of credit debts.

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Another important point is the dominant influence of the government and pro-government circles on the formation of public opinion. If the president says that the reason for the fall in the value of the lira is the conspiracy of external forces against Turkey, then to say otherwise means to raise suspicion of disloyalty to the Turkish nation. Particularly zealous patriots defiantly purchase from banks liras as a sign of solidarity in the confrontation with the United States.

The resilience of the Turkish economy to external fluctuations, attacks of speculators and even political pressure from the United States still largely depends on the actions of the Turkish government. It was the miscalculations of the Turkish authorities in the long-term planning of the economic programme that contributed to the instability of the Turkish economy. The Turkish authorities are making it clear that the Turks will probably have to learn to live within their means. Thus, the country has already limited the terms of payment for new consumer loans, while increasing the interest rate of the Central Bank.

Further steps will depend on whether the economy and more rational spending will have a negative impact on the positions of political power in the country. The decisive factor will be the ability of the Turkish government to present measures of ''belt-tightening'' to ordinary citizens as part of the fight against external enemies.

First published: https://realnoevremya.com/articles/2791-an-expert-column-on-the-devaluation-of-the-turkish-lira


Can Turkey and Russia be in the same camp?

By Cenk Başlamış

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s suggestion in the New York Times article that Turkey shall "search for new friends and allies" inevitably brought Russia to mind. This issue, which comes to the fore because of the "Pastor Brunson crisis" between Ankara and Washington, is not really that new. Since the July 15 coup attempt Turkey has been witnessing discussions whether the axis of Turkey changes and whether the nation breaks away from the West. At first glance, indeed, it seemed so with relations with the US and European Union member visibly deteriorating relations in times of rapid rapprochement with Russia.

Tactical cooperation between Russia
and Turkey can become strategic

There are concrete developments in Turkish-Russian relations that entered the recovery period after the "jet crisis" exploded on 24 November 2015. Turkey returned to the field in the reconciliation primarily through cooperation in Syria, military operations and was able to take place in Astana process with Russia and Iran. Steps were taken in the Akkuyu Nuclear Power Plant project with the Turkish Stream Project, to which Moscow attaches great importance, and an agreement was reached to deliver the S-400 systems in 2019. All of these are important examples of the political, energy and military alliance between the two countries that have proved to be a focal point. It is possible to conclude that when Erdogan is saying "we can search for new friends and allies" he implies, first and foremost, Russia.

For a long time, there have been debates on Turkey being increasing attracted by Moscow while severing its ties with the United States and Western alliance. However, these discussions in Turkey, and even in the West, focus primarily on Turkish vision of the issue, while few analysis is devoted to the other side in this picture, Russia, especially to things like what Russians really think about Turkish-Western relations and whether they really want Turkey to break away from the West. This prompts us to think whether Turkey and Russia really belong to the one camp. My answer is no. Let me explain why.
To understand what I mean it is important to see how Russian strategic thinkers define Turkey’s role in the world and where they position Ankara in global arrangements. During the Cold war contours of alliances and loyalties were crystal clear and Moscow didn’t approach Turkey as a player independent from the NATO interests. Such views underwent few changes after the collapse of the Soviet Union, even more, in the 1990s, a period of the greatest weakness of Russian positions, Moscow under the influence of these continuing views was inclined to mistrust intentions and disprove ambitions of Turkey in the Caucasus and Central Asia. 

Eurasian vector in Russian-Turkish relations

Major blow to this vision was delivered by the vote in the Turkish Parliament against cooperation in Iraq with Washington in 2003. The vote disproved Moscow’s view of Turkey as being uncapable of acting independently from Western interests and, in general, open way to changes to Russian policy on Turkey. This today allows us to see that Russia doesn’t merely want to create a joint camp with Turkey, but rather to weaken West and use this to reinforce its own positions. It is just to ask a question what Russia pursues with this strategy. Explanation lies in how Russia perceived modern world. Even though, Putin may present Russia as a super power that can challenge the United States, Russian leadership accepts current world order. “Revolting against the American imperialism and support of the oppressed” is a part of good image strategy.

Russia doesn’t have serious objections against current state of global affairs because, despite all recent diplomatic and political achievements, it would not be able to resist against the United States and support, at least today, any alternative world orders. In such conditions, instead of trying to form new global constellations and prepare for possible resulting chaos, Russia makes use of crisis in relations between Turkey and West.

Besides, Russia for centuries have been perceiving Turkey, a regional competitor, not through true, native accounts, but always through some third-party glasses. Russia doesn’t want to intimately closely attract Turkey due to different historic experience, religious and cultural identities. Instead Russia wants a Turkey, that could both stand separately from the political camps, hostile to Russia, and be not very independent as a separate entity for ease of controllability from Moscow. In short, Russia prefers NATO members, but alliances with troubled countries in terms of interests, to meet under the same roof with a country that they do not see in themselves, and they are suspicious of their long-term plans in the Caucasus, Central Asia and the Middle East.


Triumvirate for Syria

By Vyacheslav Matuzov 

Speaking about the 10th meeting on Syria in Sochi, it is worth noting that it has a special significance. Because the military actions in the republic are approaching the end. The Syrian army with the help of Russian specialists is completing the operation in the south. Political arrangements have been reached with Jordan and Israel. And although there is an enclave with terrorists in Idlib, in general the situation in the UAR moves towards the cessation of hostilities.

Once it was believed that the Astana process should involve representatives of military groups that are armed in arms against the Syrian army and various political forces opposing the Syrian government scattered around the globe. Today, this situation has changed. The absence of military factions - already defeated or those that joined the ranks of the Syrian army and are under the command of the Syrian armed forces - completely transforms the configuration of the negotiations.

Turkey obstructs efforts to include China in the Astana 
mechanism of Syrian resolution process
It is all radically changed by the fact that the Americans officially withdrew from the Astana process. Before, Russia and the United States in Geneva acted as co-sponsors of a peaceful settlement of the situation in Syria. And now, after the self-elimination of the Americans, there is a prospect, when all the processes after the end of hostilities will be decided in Astana. It seems that in this situation the Geneva track is already becoming secondary, and even completely unclaimed. It is now clear that Syria's problems are being discussed on the basis of the positions of the three states. This is Iran, participating in the events on the side of the Syrian government, Turkey, opposing the official Damascus, and Russia, which supports Syria in military, political and diplomatic terms as a member state of the UN.

Apparently, it's not all that simple. Turkey has undertaken to cease hostilities in the north of Syria. Today, this de-escalation zone remains the only enclave where terrorist groups are concentrated, migrating to Idlib from all over the republic. How to solve this problem - by military means or through some political steps - is a difficult question. So far, Turkey has a notable desire not to let the Syrian army by military means liberate the city of Idlib and its surroundings. Moreover, she threatened to cease participation in the Astana process if the Syrian army launched an offensive.

Turkish solitaire and tripartite summit in Ankara
One of these days, even information appeared that more than 10 thousand militants declared their readiness to leave Idlib and go to Turkey, having handed over all positions and weapons. In my opinion, this is the first signal about how the problem of the northern territory of Syria can and should be solved. Subsequently, the Sochi format will become even more important, since there are many problems related to the post-war development of the republic. One of the most important moments in this issue is the problem of the Kurds, on which the US relied in a vast area on the eastern bank of the Euphrates River with oil fields. Americans, in fact, handed over them. The first sign of this was the negotiations of part of the leadership of the Kurdish "Democratic Union" led by Saleh Muslim with the authorities in Damascus. The dialogue was not just begun - the Kurd side declared its readiness to transfer the areas of the eastern coast of the Euphrates to the Syrian authorities controlled by them and withdraw all its armed formations.

At the same time, there will inevitably arise a question of working out an understanding with Turkey, which has a strict attitude to prevent any form of Kurdish, neither federal, nor autonomous, on the territory of Syria. It is not excluded that preliminary discussions were held in Sochi and the future structure of the country, taking into account the role of the Kurdish factor.

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Central Asian jihadists in Syria
Attention in the future will also require ensuring the rights and fate of armed groups that go over to the side of the Syrian army, but the main, of course, will be the humanitarian assistance to Syria. The consolidated position of the West is the refusal to participate in the humanitarian aid of the RAA. It is motivated by the fact that humanitarian aid can be rendered only in the event of the resignation of Bashar Assad. Which, naturally, is not possible today. And here Moscow can play a very significant role. Not so long ago, Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and Chief of the General Staff Valery Gerasimov traveled the countries of the Middle East, and then went to Western Europe, France and Germany. And the main result of these trips was the agreement of France to provide humanitarian assistance to the residents of East Hut. She sent a huge package of medical aid to Syria by plane, provided by Russia. It is possible that the further work of representatives of Moscow with Western countries will allow other states to convince them of the need to separate their attitude to the leadership of the republic from the humanitarian problem of the Syrian people.