So Turkey and Russia have a ceasefire in Syria. Russian military intervention, which the Putin régime was warned against by those with some foresight, has led to endless complications and distractions for the Kremlin at a time when nothing much has been going well. Yet the siege mentality epitomised in commentary on “deep state” television – Zvezda – and in the high emotions at ceremonies commemorating the Great Patriotic War serves an obvious political purpose. How recklessly Russia acquires new enemies, one reader of Novaya gazeta commented on 5 March; so that then official commentators can say how Russia is surrounded by hostility.
But in terms of geopolitics, if Putin’s main aim in the world is wedge-driving into NATO, then falling out with Turkey is not the best means of going about it. The deeper into the quagmire the Russians go, the more NATO can relax. When President Carter tricked the Russians into invading Afghanistan in December 1979, on the back of the successful decrypting of internal Kremlin communications, national security adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski was so delighted; reaching into the air and closing his fist, he told Bill Odom, his military adviser: “They’ve taken the bait.” With respect to Syria, there was no bait. It was instead an unexpected gift from Moscow to Washington. One Russian newspaper that could rightfully say “I told you so” is Nezavisimaya gazeta, whose experienced correspondents were nervous about a repetition of the Afghan adventure recklessly embarked upon against the best military advice.
At a time when the talks between Presidents Putin and Erdogan are still in train, Nezavisimaya gazeta has now appeared with an unsigned editorial which indicates that the bluster issuing from Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu about protecting President Assad of Syria at all costs is just that. The plain fact is that Syria is a core interest of the Turks but merely a passing fantasy for the Russians. Once the invading Turkish forces in Idlib lost thirty or so men in battle with the Syrian government forces, Erdogan took off the gloves and sent thousands into attack against Assad’s men on 28 February, which obliged the Russians finally to agree to the summit with Putin that Erdogan had requested for 5 March. Erdogan duly arrived in Moscow accompanied by his top brass, including, interestingly, the head of his country’s secret service.
At every stage of the game the Kremlin must be asking itself whether territory marginal to Russian interests is worth defending against Ankara which is fighting about core Turkish security interests. Inherently this has meant that Erdogan has always been willing to go va banque to get his own way. The Turks already hold Syrian territory adjacent to their own border and their invading forces have now dug in around Idlib and have no intention of withdrawal. Erdogan has repeatedly told the Russians to back out and leave him to fight it out alone with Assad. The Assad régime controls two thirds of Syrian territory but only one third of the Syrian population. The American sphere of influence to the north and north-east contains the Kurds. Even the Europeans have interests at stake. The EU suffers from the overflow of Syrian refugees which they can ultimately attribute to the Russians. The Russians declared they were leaving a year ago but they still command the air and somehow stayed in place with sovereign bases supplied by ships passing through the Bosphorous accompanied by increasing numbers of Turkish naval vessels. And no end is in sight for the civil war.
The unsigned editorial, “Who Controls What in Syria”, appearing today gets down to basics. “In practice”, Nezavisimaya gazeta concludes, “everything points to these many peculiarities of the Syrian war, explicable by the fact that Russia is forced to manoeuvre in order not to allow the more perilous episodes of fighting to turn into a full scale military conflict that could bring the situation to boil over not only in the Near Eastern region but also further across the world.” Quite so.
And when hardline newspaper Vzglyad ru declared that the Erdogan-Putin summit was a victory for Assad, which of course it enthusiastically welcomed, its readers brought the matter down to earth. “F…g great defeat for Erdogan. Idlib remains Turkey’s and Syria loses territory.” wrote one. Another suggested, less indelicately, perhaps, that the battle of Kursk would scarcely have been a victory had the enemy remained in the field (though of course they were still in Russia).
At the summit in the grand room where the two delegations gathered to meet the press, Putin had Erdogan seated in front of a gold clock mounted by a model of the scultpure by Evgeny Lanceray depicting Russian troops crossing into the Balkans to fight the Turks in 1877. The Kremlin spokesman denied that there was any purpose to the placing of the clock, saying it was always in the room, along with life size statues of both Peter the Great and Catherin the Great (who took the Crimea from the Ottoman empire.)
Иван Иванов6 часов назад
«Московский протокол» обозначил крупнейшее поражение Эрдогана в Сирии
|6 марта 2020, 17:15
Фото: Дмитрий Виноградов/РИА Новости
Текст: Евгений Крутиков
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