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Erdogan's Syrian dilemma

Mar 03,2020 - Last updated at Mar 03,2020

Ankara made it perfectly clear that it would not compromise its national interests while dealing with the situation in Idlib. While Ankara seeks to avoid a direct military confrontation with Russia over Idlib, it is adamant that Russia could curb Bashar Al Assad's forces. For Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, it all boils down to Russian President Vladimir Putin's intentions with regard to Idlib.

Thus far, the evolving situation in Syria has posed a dilemma for Turkey. Barring any serious domestic challenges, Erdogan is set to defend what he deems as Turkish interests in the northern part of Syria. To do that, Erdogan developed a twin-pillar policy. On the one hand, he seeks to enlist the American support of his military campaign in Syria, and on the other he tries to convince Russia to step aside of the conflict. Meanwhile, he opens the door for refugees to reach Europe in order to create a stake for them to support Turkey.

Given the complexity of the Syrian quagmire, it is clear from the very beginning that Erdogan has decided to take the risk and set the stakes high. Besides, Erdogan has succeeded in creating a sort of sensation about Turkish nationalism that is cutting across all ideological lines.

That being said, there is no consensus in Turkey about the war in Syria. Reports talk about internal tension that is being built in Turkey. Some even demand that Turkey bring home all of its soldiers. Some 140 activists and intellectuals signed a petition saying, "We the signatories see our country pulled into a deadlock, our kids dying in a battle they are being made to fight in another country, our reputation damaged in front of the global community and our nation used as an imperialist pawn and a sponsor of religious terrorism." Moreover, a few opposition leaders demand an end of the military campaign and negotiate directly with Assad to reach an agreement.

Not surprisingly, President Erdogan is unlikely to concede to the demands made by some opposition leaders. He simply cannot afford to lose the confrontation unless he achieves some of his goals. And yet, Erdogan needs to walk a fine line. It is obvious that his current military campaign in Syria, if left unchecked, would place him on a collision course with Putin, a dangerous confrontation that could lead to serious escalation.

For this reason, Erdogan talked about a possible ceasefire and he hoped that President Putin would be helpful in that regard. In his words, "I will go to Moscow on Thursday to discuss the developments in Syria. I hope that he [Putin] will take the necessary measures there, such as a ceasefire, and that we will find a solution to this affair."

From his tone, Erdogan seems in a compromising mood. Therefore, the ball is in the Russian court. Putin can help find a middle of the road settlement that makes the Turkish government satisfied while saving the face of the Syrian regime that has suffered a lot recently at the hands of the Turkish forces. Both Erdogan and Putin came to the hard realisation that a direct war between Russia and Turkey will benefit neither. This realisation should be enough to make them figure out an accepted settlement of Idlib.

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