Turkey’s President Erdogan has confirmed that he has spoken to the US President and will shortly speak with the Russian President in an attempt to de-escalate a situation regarding which which many including the UN’s Envoy for Syria Staffan de Mistura have suggested could lead to a wider global conflict.
“We are very uncomfortable that some countries, which rely on their military power, are turning Syria into an arm wrestling arena.
…Today, I will talk to [Russian President Vladimir] Putin. How we can stop this chemical massacre [in Syria], I will again talk to him about this”.
The Turkish President’s remarks follows similar statements from the Prime Minister and Deputy Prime Minister.
Yesterday, Turkey’s Deputy Prime Minister Bekir Bozdag gave a statement which was an apparent condemnation of Donald Trump’s threat to shortly unleash missile strikes on the Syrian Arab Republic. Bozdag stated,
“Turkey from the very beginning said conflicts in the region [Syria] must be stopped and problems here could not be resolved through military means. We also said a political solution is quite important”.
The story which headlined the official Anadolu Agency’s English language webpage makes it clear that while Turkey and Russia may have differences over assigning responsibility to and even acknowledge the existence of a chemical attack in the Douma suburb of Damacus, Turkey nevertheless is opposed to any US strike on Syria, as well as being opposed to the Russian counter-strikes that an American could likely elicit.
While Turkey has not been particularly vocal over the threats emanating from the US towards Syria, the statement by the Deputy Prime Minister makes it clear that Turkey wishes to remain on the sidelines of the heated issue, but nevertheless is clear in its desire for the implementation of a quick political solution to the Syrian conflict, one which would avoid any further escalations in the conflict.
While Bozdag was not quoted as mentioning the US or Russia by name, his meaning is perfectly clear. As a power with major disagreements in Syria with the US and increasingly minor disagreements with its partner Russia, Ankara seeks to discourage any provocations which could threaten the balance of power that along with Russia and Iran, Turkey has worked to create as part of the Astana Group.
Turkey’s Prime Minister Binali Yıldırım also encouraged de-escalation saying,
“I have a better missile, you have a better missile. It’s like a street fight. They threaten each other through tweets. The people on the streets are paying the price, it’s about time you stop this fight”.
Meanwhile, the staunchly pro-Erdogan Daily Sabah described Prime Minister Yıldırım in the following way,
“Turkey’s Prime Minister Binali Yıldırım urged the U.S. and Russia to cooperate in the Middle East to relieve the wounds of civilians and ensure the territorial integrity of Syria and Iraq without going hand in hand with terror organisations”.
While remaining true to its own clear interests, Turkey has de-facto sided with Russia in seeking to avoid any US action against Syria. By contrast, during the illegal US missile strike against Syria in 2017, Turkey was publicly supportive of America’s actions. Since then, the US and Turkey have been at odds over Washington’s support for Syrian terrorist groups aligned with the PKK, while cooperation between Russia and Turkey continues to grow in many fields, including in respect of security and diplomatic cooperation regarding the Syrian peace process.
It should be further noted that Turkey has forcibly disarmed the evacuated members of the the terrorist organisation Jaysh al-Islam who had previously occupied Douma. Jaysh al-Islam are a known Saudi proxy group and as a US missile strike on Syria would ultimately be based merely on the claims made by Jaysh al-Islam, Turkey which has multiple disputes with Saudi Arabia, has further taken a stand against what the Prime Minister called “terrorist organisations”. While Turkey has frequently criticised the US for working with pro-PKK terrorist organisations, Ankara has never accused Russia of working with terrorists in Syria. Thus, the statement from Binali Yıldırım can be read as an indication that Turkey would view a pro-Jaysh al-Islam missile strike against Syria as a form of US collusion with a terrorist group.
Erdogan’s statement makes it clear that Turkey seeks to prevent a US/Russian conflict while also avoiding further violence in Syria by utilising current and new de-escalation mechanisms in line with the commitments of Turkey and its Astana partners for peace, Russia and Iran.