Mosul to Kobane, Navarino to Sochi

Turkey is anchored in the West since the Paris Peace Conference in 1856 that ensued the Crimean War. Today, over the control of a godforsaken piece of land of 120 to 32km, Putin is invited to kill too many birds with one stone.

Eric Clapton is singing: “Little man, you've had a busy day / Put away your soldiers, the battle has been won / Enemy is out of sight / Come along now soldier, and put away your gun / War is over for tonight / Time to stop your scheming, time your day was through.” And I am listening while going over the details of the Sochi Memorandum of Understanding (MoU). 

The more it changes, the more it’s the same thing, I am thinking: Since the initial republican constitution of 1921 gave way to the second one in 1924, since the "Mosul Question" is solved on paper in 1926, since the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) took up arms in 1984, since 1991 when the Iraqi Kurds achieved de facto autonomy with the U.S. support and then since federal Kurdistan region in Iraq became a reality in 2005 but failed its independence bid in 2017. Down here, history is never past but is now, always. Here, history is the unwanted guest that refuses to leave your home.

Let’s get started then; first, as per the heading: Following VP Pence’s visit, Turkish and American sides adopted a “joint statement”. After Sochi, we have a “MoU” at hand. If form and legalese still does matter in diplomacy, that is a fact in itself. As per content, the U.S. engineered “security mechanism” is now taken over almost fully by Russia.

The main motive though, appears still to appease Turkey under numerous layers of constructive ambiguity. Here, the ill-fated joint U.S.-Turkish operation center (in Akçakale) is replaced by a Russian-Turkish monitoring and verification mechanism. Joint patrols are back, to be conducted in 10km deep inside the Syrian frontier strip.

Map: Russian Ministry of Defence

In short, the operation “Peace Spring” folds after fifteen days as announced first -or dictated by according to others- the Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov. In other words, no more kinetic action will will be allowed on the ground. Which in turn means that Ankara relinquishes per se the threat to resorting to further military power in case the MoU is not fully implemented.

By the same token, the implementation of the deal is passed on to both the Syrians and the Russians. Although a “150 hours” clause exists, the Turkish Armed Forces can not realistically take on both the Syrian and Russian armies as that will mean a full-fledged war and not a crossborder counter-terrorism  operation. 

Furthermore, much to the chagrin of Ankara as one is lead to believe, YPG/YPJ is not explicitly qualified as a “terrorist organisation” in the text. Adana Agreement is reminded as the inevitable legal straitjacket to abide by. Manbij and Tel Rifat are further added to the hodge-podge wish list with no strings attached either.

The fact that the domestically vilified (in Turkey) but globally praised SDF commander Mazloum Kobane (“nom de guerre”) having U.S. president Trump on the phone and then the same day talking with the Russian Defence Minister Shoigu accompanied by the Chief of General Staff Gerasimov through video-conference, speaks for itself. Is the YPG a terrorist organization that Turkey will eradicate from now on shoulder to shoulder with Russia, or is it a militia force for Russia to partner with on the ground?

Russians will put up 15 monitoring posts along the border. What does Putins’s spokesperson Peskov try to achieve by threatening the YPG that neither Russian military police nor the SAA will stand in between the Kurds and the Turkish Armed Forces in case the YPG refuses to withdraw from the 30km border strip? Is it a scheme to accelerate the talks between the YPG and Damascus and for the YPG to change uniforms?

Map: The Defense Post (area of the repositioning of the residual US force)

The emphasis on territorial integrity means that Russians are keen to see the presence of the Turkish Armed Forces in Syria end at some point in time and not become permanent. Combating separatist terrorism inside Syria together is translated by Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov as having to do with Idlib: “Here is looking at you, kid” he seems to say.

Besides, Mr.Putin talks of the Kurds as being an inherent part of the future pluralistic state of Syria. Deputy Foreign Minister Bogdanov declares his hope for the YPG/YPJ to guarantee on their own their obedience to the deal by redeploying to the 30km interior of the border.

Return of refugees issue is shelved as two million Syrians will not be voluntarily squeezing into a 120 by 30 km rectangle. Mr.Erdoğan time and again repeated that Turkey will not be shouldering the burden of hosting four millions Syrians in Turkey on its own, hinting that flood gates will soooner rather than later be open towards the Balkans unless EU coughs up the necessary sums. 

Taking that hint seriously, Germans bent almost backwards to table at least “an idea” at the NATO ministerial to salvage what is left of their credibility. Defence Minister Kramp-Karrenbauer admitted the fact that Europe is long absent from the Syrian theater.       

To cut a long story short, Erdoğan and Putin emerge as the immediate victors after Sochi. Erdoğan shut the Rojava shop down; sent the Americans home packing; garnered 71.5% public support for the operation; drove a deep wedge between the HDP and the main opposition bloc; smashed the two new parties that were suppose to be born out of AKP. Putin, further peeled Turkey away from the West, the U.S. and the NATO; turned himself into the sole playmaker in Syria; further advanced Russia’s diplomatic role in the Middle East.

Painting: Ambroise Louis Garneray - Battle in Navarino Bay (today’s town of Pylos, on the west coast of the Peloponnese, Greece)

At the Battle of Navarino on Oct. 20, 1827, Britain and France had teamed up with Russia to effectively demolish the Ottoman Navy, from which catastrophe the recovery is perhaps still not complete even in our time. Yet, less than thirty years later the same two imperial powers had had a thorough change of heart when they fought and won the Crimean War against Russia with the ailing Ottoman Empire on their side as their indispensable ally.

Turkey is anchored in the West since the Paris Peace Conference in 1856 that ensued the Crimean War. Today, over the control of a godforsaken piece of land of 120 to 32km, Putin is invited to kill too many birds with one stone.

True, Syria does not count on the map as much for the U.S. as it does for Russia. It is also true that now Russia will need to enlargen its military footprint with a land operation in Northeast Syria much larger than previously conducted and will have to deconflict the airspace with the U.S.. But what about Turkey ? Neither the U.S. nor the EU have coherent policies to keep Turkey’s western anchor in place.

Today the frequently asked question is “who betrayed the Kurds?” Half of the 35 to 40 million strong global Kurdish population are Republic of Turkey’s citizens. Tomorrow, when the hangover clears, the pertinent question may remain the same: “Who lost Turkey?”

September 13, 2021 The new cold war