Russia's strategic win in Syria
One big winner is emerging out of the bloody Turkish invasion of Northern Syria, and that is Russia. Russian President Vladimir Putin must be smirking as his strategic chess moves have paved the way for long term Russian influence over Syria, which he sees as a strategic priority in Russian foreign policy. Not only have NATO members turned against each other, but the formerly pro-American Kurds have now been thrust into the Assad camp, and as Turkey is sanctioned by the US it will become even more reliant on Russia for arms and trade.
The greatest loser, of course, is the Kurds, who have once again become a dispensable pawn in the geopolitics of the region. None of the big powers took sufficient cognizance of the fact that the Kurds in Northern Syria had created a democratic model worth emulating out of the ashes of ISIS repression. The parliament in Rojava was inclusive of all ethnic groups and encouraged participatory democracy. ISIS fighters were under firm control in detention camps and their families were being humanely treated. The politics of expediency has once again resulted in the destruction of something progressive. Kurdish forces, which had not threatened Turkey but simply wanted the right to live freely with the right to practice their culture and speak their language, are now being massacred.
Facing extermination by Turkish forces, the Kurds of Northern Syria were forced to accept that the Americans were only allies of convenience, and after eight years of serving as their boots on the ground in the fight against ISIS, the Kurds were ultimately nothing more than cannon fodder to the US administration. They were left with little choice but to strike a deal with Assad’s regime on Sunday to secure the support of Syrian troops in fighting off the Turkish offensive. This is playing out exactly how Russia would have wanted it to whereby the Kurds, who were perceived as too close to the Americans, are now being forced into an alliance with Assad’s regime. With the American troops out and Kurdish and Syrian forces working in tandem to push Turkish troops back across the border, Syria will ultimately be able to extend control over its entire sovereign territory.
Turkey will pay a heavy price for its vengeful assault on a people it always sought to suppress. There is no question that there will be huge bipartisan support in the US Congress for a tough economic sanctions bill against Turkey, and Republican advocates will remind Trump that he promised to obliterate the Turkish economy if Erdogan went too far. Some of Turkey’s most fervent apologists in the US Congress have now seen the Erdogan administration's true colours, and want to sever relations.
Turkey will subsequently throw in its lot with Russia and China, buying Russian-made missiles and defence systems, and will become an uncomfortable member of the NATO alliance. European countries have wasted no time turning their condemnation of Turkey into tangible action, a number of states imposing an arms embargo given its invasion of Northern Syria. Germany, France, Finland and Sweden have halted shipments of military equipment to Turkey in the past week, sending a clear message that its threat to international peace and security is unacceptable.
But perhaps most significant is the schism that has developed within NATO itself. The divide between the US and its European allies has never looked so wide. European leaders are no longer convinced of the US resolve to defend their security interests given the very real possibility that ISIS prisoners who had been held by Kurdish forces could now escape and make their way back to wreak havoc in their home countries. The prospect of an ISIS resurgence in Syria poses a direct threat to European countries which have borne the brunt of terrorist attacks in recent years. There was no consultation with other European allies before Trump made his decision to withdraw US troops, and according to US sources, there were no consultations with US intelligence structures or the National Security Council either. It has been a one-man show all the way.
Whether Trump had factored in the enduring geopolitical dynamics of his decision and the humanitarian catastrophe it would unleash is unclear, but he will have to live with the consequences. Those are an increasingly isolated America, that is no longer considered a trusted ally, and has no more leverage in the Syrian conflict zone. A new Syrian-Kurdish detente will bolster the military and political fortunes of the Assad regime, and consolidate its position in the country. This indirectly strengthens those forces fighting on the side of the Syrian government, including Hezbollah, and Iran. But if Syria is a Russian 'client state' then it is Putin’s Russia that has ultimately achieved the upper hand and ensured that its decade long investment was worth the effort and will entrench its influence over the long term.
* Ebrahim is Independent Media's Group Foreign Editor.