The recognition of the obvious: what’s behind Erdogan’s words about the overthrow of Assad


On Thursday, the Minister of foreign Affairs of Russia Sergey Lavrov will pay a working visit to Turkey. In the program Minister — participation in the fifth meeting of the Russian-Turkish joint strategic planning group. The group resumed its work after President Recep Tayyip Erdogan apologized to Russia for the downed last year, a military plane, and relations between the two countries began to improve. According to Deputy foreign Minister Michael Bogdanov, with Turkish foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu Lavrov will discuss the recent Erdogan’s statements about the goals of the Turkish operation in Syria that caused the surprise in the Kremlin and the Russian foreign Ministry.

What Erdogan said

On Tuesday evening the President of Turkey Erdogan announced that the ultimate purpose of the operation of Turkish troops in Syria is to overthrow the country’s regime of President Bashar al-Assad. The threat to Damascus from Erdogan made during his speech at the parliamentary Symposium in Istanbul to Jerusalem. Formally the event was devoted to the problems of the Muslim community in this city.

It was not the beginning of a new full-scale campaign against the Syrian regime: Turkish leader stressed that lasting for three months the military operation “shield of the Euphrates” in the end aimed at his overthrow.

“According to my calculations, Syria has already killed 1 million people. Where to watch the UN? What is she doing? Can be engaged in Iraq? No. We counseled patience, but eventually broke down and went to Syria along with the “Free Syrian army” (FSA) — quoted Erdogan the Turkish edition of Hurriyet. We do not claim to Syria, but I want to return it to the present owners. In essence, we are there to restore justice. We sent troops to put an end to the tyranny of Assad, who staged government terror”.

Ground operation of the Turkish army under the name “shield of the Euphrates” was launched in late August and is still ongoing. Damascus condemned the operation, calling the illegal invasion. In the days of the beginning of the operation, Erdogan claimed that the campaign has two objectives. First, this attack on the positions of ISIS (not a terrorist group), to deny militants the opportunity to bombard Turkish territory and carry out attacks in border towns. Secondly, controlling the units of the Syrian Kurds, which Ankara considers terrorists, and that without the intervention of the Turkish army would soon control almost all of the Syrian-Turkish border.

With Aug regular troops of Turkey and allied FSA (armed Syrian opposition) managed to completely cut off ISIL from the Turkish border, advancing 30 kilometers into Syria. However, to repulse the Islamists the town of al-Bab (the largest settlement on the isthmus occupied by ISIL) have not yet succeeded. Directly from the Syrian government forces, Turkish troops are not in contact. However, on the night of 24 November, participating in operation “shield of the Euphrates” of the military was attacked by the aviation. Ankara has blamed on the Syrian air force. Representatives of Damascus did not comment on the allegations.

The speech of Erdogan has merely formulated what was already known: the basic interests of Ankara in Syria one way or another focused around the overthrow of Assad and weakening the Kurds, said the expert of the Russian Council on international Affairs Maxim Suchkov. “Erdogan said is not a revelation, but demonstrates the desperate political and military situation, — the analyst continues. — Promising his supporters a quick victory at El-Bab and the subsequent promotion on Syria, Erdogan has faced resistance in the United States, not approved his operation.”

Moscow waits

President Vladimir Putin has repeatedly said that Assad’s fate should be determined by the Syrian people, not foreign players. However, Moscow’s reaction to bellicose statements by Turkish leaders were careful. The official representative of the foreign Ministry Maria Zakharova said that in fact, Erdogan’s words were not a direct quote, but was this in the retelling. Press Secretary of the President of Russia Dmitry Peskov called Erdogan’s statement “very serious”, adding that it is “discordant with previous statements.”

The need for clarifying wording Erdogan told and senior researcher at IMEMO Victor Nadein-Ranevskiy. The expert suggested that the intervention of the Turkish leader was emotional, but in the future it is likely to be adjusted. “He just expressed everything in his heart,” said Nadein-Ranevskiy. In his view, the Russian diplomacy will have to wait for explanations, and while focused on the former agreements, a party which was Turkey.

Erdogan’s words are primarily aimed at the domestic audience, draws the attention Ilshat Saitov, research fellow at the Department of Turkey of the Institute of vostokovedeniya wounds

The fight against Assad has never been positioned as the purpose of the operation “shield of the Euphrates”, but Ankara’s desire to achieve the withdrawal of Syrian government, the Turkish policy has been discussed for many years. The necessity of removal of President Assad, Erdogan insisted in 2013, and in the midst of the scandal surrounding chemical weapons, and in 2015, when the Islamists seized large areas in Northern Syria. Russia’s intervention in the Syrian conflict on the side of the government has complicated Turkey’s position. “Turkish foreign policy in Syria is held hostage by Moscow. Russia controls the airspace, while Turkish troops penetrated 30 kilometres inside Syrian territory, — said the Agency Reuters expert Istanbul University of Marmara Belul Ozkan. Turkey need to coordinate every step in Syria with Russia.”

According to Suchkov, many in the Turkish elite believe that an airstrike by the Syrian air force on a Turkish military was at least perpetrated with the full knowledge of Moscow — indeed, it happened on the anniversary of the destruction of the Turkish su-24 Russian space forces. “In this sense, the cautious reaction is understandable. It is important to prevent collision videoconferencing Russian and Turkish forces, although considered Ankara’s options for advancing its troops in Syria could potentially cause this to happen,” says Suchkov.

Disagreements between Moscow and Turkey on Syria before the end to allow it will be difficult, however, if Erdogan wants to keep relations with Russia, he will agree to some sort of solution to preserve Assad in power, perhaps this has already been agreed, the Saitov, paying attention to two telephone conversation Putin and Erdogan held last week.

With the participation of Alexander Ratnikova

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