Syria is featuring less on Turkey’s agenda since election fever has gripped the country.
There was little analysis, for example, on the results of the trilateral meeting in Moscow on April 28 between Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu, and Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif.
The meeting was held within the context of the “Astana Process” initiated by the three countries.
It was perhaps convenient for Cavusoglu that little was made of this meeting. The reasons for this were already evident in the opening remarks by Lavrov during the press conference after their talks.
Lavrov said their meeting had taken “amidst less than positive developments in the Syrian conflict” because of what he termed the “unlawful attack” on Syria by the United States, France, and Great Britain on April 14. http://www.mid.ru/en/foreign_policy/news/-/asset_publisher/cKNonkJE02Bw/content/id/3202565
Lavrov said this attack was based on a “completely unsubstantiated pretext,” adding that it had set back efforts to drive the political process in Syria forward.
These remarks were problematic for Cavusoglu. To start with Turkey supported the strikes against Syrian regime targets fervently.
President Recep Tayyip Erdogan even criticized the west for only striking at Bashar al Assad’s forces when it used chemical weapons, and not when the regime perpetrated atrocities with conventional ones.
In other words, Ankara wants more, not fewer attacks against Assad, which is the opposite of what Russia and Iran want.
There was also Lavrov’s comment that the U.S.-led strikes were based on a “completely unsubstantiated pretext.” Yet there is no question in the mind of Erdogan or Turkish government officials that Syria did use chemical weapons in Douma prompting this retaliation.
Put another way, Ankara’s fixation with Assad continues, despite having toned down some of its rhetoric for the sake of its burgeoning relations with Russia.
These relations are based on Turkey’s disappointment with the U.S. for supporting the Kurdish YPG groups which Ankara says is a terrorist organization.
Notwithstanding that, Ankara still wants to see Assad gone and is relying on Washington to achieve this. Put briefly it relies on Russia against the YPG and on the U.S. against Assad.
How long it will manage to play this “cat and mouse game” is not clear. It is clear, though, that it won’t be able to juggle these diverse factors indefinitely.
During the press conference in Moscow Lavrov also said the “Astana format” remained “firmly on its feet. He added, “We will continue to solve principled tasks related to de-escalation, relieving tension and conflict potential.”
In other words, the Astana process is in the first instance aimed at calming the violence in Syria.
Lavrov said the sides in this process were also strongly committed to the understanding that there can only be a political and diplomatic solution to the Syrian crisis.
It seems, however, that the trouble for Turkey will start when the search for a political solution begins in earnest. It will mean that Ankara will first have to overcome its antipathy for Assad, who Moscow and Tehran will clearly not give up on.
Then there is the question of the Kurds. Russia may be cooperating with Turkey over the YPG, but it has not given any sign that it will accommodate Ankara by ensuring the Kurds do not get any degree of autonomy in Syria.
In his remarks, Lavrov referred to the Astana Process as being “to a certain extent unique.” It appears to be so, however, because of its inconsistencies.
This is what will probably undermine the whole process in the end. Whether Turkey, which is keen on this process continuing, has factored in that possibility, however, is not clear.