Shaping the post-war fate of Syria

Published 27.12.2018 02:05
Updated 27.12.2018 08:00

Last week, we were talking about a possible Turkish cross-border offensive in northern Syria, targeting People's Protection Units (YPG) elements, but President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has recently declared that Ankara has postponed the expected operation. The decision came after President Erdoğan's phone call with U.S. President Donald Trump.

The circumstances are very rapidly shifting in Syria and across the whole region. President Trump, last week, announced his decision to pull out U.S. troops from Syria – a huge development for Turkey in its long battle against the PKK and its Syrian wings.

The YPG and the Democratic Union Party (PYD) now feel abandoned by the U.S. decision since the terrorist groups are funded, trained and equipped by the U.S.

In addition, the aftermath of the conversation between Erdoğan and Trump on Monday entailed many important messages. President Erdoğan invited his American counterpart for a visit to Turkey and Trump responded positively. It won't be a surprise if there might be a forthcoming state visit in early 2019.

No doubt, there are many issues to discuss on the table besides the conflict in Syria. The Khashoggi investigation and the extradition of Gülenist Terror Group (FETÖ) leader Fetullah Gülen are similarly urgent and significant.

As a result, when compared to the atmosphere a couple of months ago, bilateral relations between the two NATO allies, Turkey and the U.S., seem to have entered a normalization process as has been usual in the past. Both sides are eager to take steps to mend frozen ties.

In this context, the U.S. withdrawal from Syria means something different. With the U.S. leaving the region, Russia, Iran and Turkey are likely to strengthen their hands in Syria. However, Turkey is here to stay as the sole actor that has positive, strong relations with the Western bloc and Moscow at the same time. Meanwhile, Turkey remains as the most influential player that stood up against the Syrian regime's massacres and inhumane operations. On the other hand, Russia and Iran still back Assad to secure its position and power in Syria.

Therefore, Turkey has again gained a historically important but difficult position in Syria as Russia and Iran maintain their support for Assad. The U.S. withdrawal is likely to make Assad stronger, yet Ankara is there to stay to balance regional developments and changes. Turkey, in the meantime, is determined to continue and further its struggle against the regional terrorism spread by Daesh and PKK-linked non-state groups.

President Erdoğan seems to have convinced the U.S. president to make the withdrawal decision. As Erdoğan reaffirmed, Turkey will handle the complicated situation on its border with Syria and its ally, the U.S., should trust Ankara and stop backing the terrorists. President Erdoğan will be also meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin in the following days to discuss the ongoing changes in Syria.

In a nutshell, it can be said that a new page is about to be opened in Syria, and Turkey has given the message that it will secure its strong position in the region and be one of the key actors that will have a say in the post-war fate of the country. Setting up a new road map for the damaged balance in Syria is a hard task; however, Turkey is supposed to take the responsibility.

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