Turkey is trying hard to present an image of close cooperation with Russia over the Syrian crisis.
Cracks however have emerged again between Ankara and Moscow over this question. The reason this time is the brutal manner in which Russian supported Syrian regime forces are trying to take back Idlib province, and especially the rebel held district of Ghouta, from opposition groups.
Moscow says the aim is to clear the region from Islamic terrorist elements. Ankara insists that Russian and Syrian jets are bombing moderate Syrian opposition elements, saying this violates agreements arrived at between Turkey, Russia and Iran under the “Astana Process.”
Turkey currently has troops stationed in Idlib under this process in order to monitor ceasefire violations.
Turkey is also wary about Iranian backed elements on the ground that are helping the Syrian army, and called in the Russian and Iranian ambassadors earlier this week to lodge a formal protest over this issue.
It is very doubtful however that Turkey’s demands will be heeded given that Ankara is the weakest link in this trilateral alliance.
None of this comes as a surprise. There is much that is incongruous in the relationship over Syria between Turkey, Russia and Iran.
The most glaring fact is that Turkey opposes the Syrian regime, which it has worked hard to undermine militarily and politically from the start. Erdogan repeated only days ago that there was not future for Syria under Bashar al Assad.
Russian and Iranian support, however, has ensured that Assad remains in place. Moscow and Tehran continue to see Assad as an integral part of any settlement.
Meanwhile Turkey continues to support opposition elements that the Syrian regime, with Russian and Iranian backing, is out to destroy.
How this contradictory picture will be resolved is not clear. What is clear is that Ankara is also losing credibility with Syrian opposition groups that it supports because of its cooperation with Moscow and Iran.
The basic problem is that Turkey did not shift its allegiance from the U.S. to Russia in this crisis because of a well though-out grand strategy. It did this reactively because it was angry with the U.S. over its support of Syrian Kurdish groups Ankara says are terrorist organizations linked to the outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK).
This is where the incongruity takes yet another turn. The same groups are being supported by Russia, a fact that Ankara has not been very vocal about because of the ties it has been trying to develop with Moscow. It prefers instead to just blast Washington over this.
The bottom line is that Washington and Moscow, for all their bellicosity towards each other, are more likely to come to some kind of arrangement over Syria in the end, than are Ankara and Moscow or Ankara and Washington.
This is all the result of not having a broad and realistic approach to this crisis, based on Turkey’s true capabilities, and relying instead on reactive steps aimed at trying to address situations Ankara does not like as they emerge.
This approach has resulted in much vacillation on the part of Turkey. The latest situation, which has detracted from the luster of Ankara’s developing ties with Moscow, appears to be just the latest example.
Turkey has been trying to fit a square peg into a round hole in Syria and this is still not working.