The prolonged war in Syria which attracted direct and indirect involvement of several global and emerging powers has turned into a microcosmos of the new global disorder based on complex multipolarity. As the critical region of Idlib – where millions of innocent Syrian civilians sought refuge while escaping the destruction of war in surrounding regions, as well as where several paramilitary groups are located – continues to occupy the global agenda, one could easily notice shifting alliances on the ground. This is not at all surprising given the chaotic character of the emerging international system in which major global and emerging powers are engaged in temporary, issue-based and fragile alliances open for infinite renegotiation.
For instance, the recent regional compact between Turkey and Russia based upon intensive collaboration on economic issues and national defense projects, as well as adopting a common stance toward the regional security challenges is thoroughly tested in Idlib. While the area was previously defined as a conflict-free zone in the context of the Astana process following a compromise between Turkey, Russia and Iran, leading to the establishment of numerous military control points, Moscow and the regime seem to be adamant on imposing their control.
While President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin and his Iranian counterpart Hassan Rouhani meet in Tehran in a third trilateral summit on Syria in the context of the Astana peace process, the agenda of closed discussions most probably will center around the critical situation in Idlib, which represents the largest geographical area under the control of the Syrian opposition. In terms of both its vital geostrategic interests such as preserving the regional influence acquired through Operation Olive Branch and Operation Euphrates Shield, as well as humanitarian concerns related with a potential explosion of another refugee influx, Turkey is rightly keen to keep the area under the control of legal groups associated with the Syrian opposition. Therefore, Erdoğan's ideal position in Tehran would be to try and delay any de facto moves to change the current politico-military configuration in Idlib until the completion of the Astana process.
But despite deepened cooperation between Ankara, Moscow and Tehran on a number of other issues, this position seems extremely difficult to maintain as the Russian air force has already intensified attacks on Idlib in collaboration with the regime. The preparations for a ground attack could already have entered into their final phase, but what matters in the Tehran summit would be the scale and scope of an eventual ground assault. From another angle, Idlib constitutes one of the cornerstones of Turkey's regional strategy toward Syria as it represents one of the last strongholds of the Syrian opposition. Ankara is perfectly aware that a policy of appeasement toward regime forces in Idlib might trigger a greater assault across other areas in order to galvanize control throughout the country with major humanitarian consequences. Hence, the greater Idlib region, which includes parts of Aleppo, Latakia and Hama, could constitute a passage toward the northern areas of Afrin, al-Bab, Jarablus and Azaz controlled by Turkey since the two offensives as buffer zones of border security and migration control.
At this point, the conjunctural alliances that characterize the new complex multipolarity of the global system came into play between Turkey, the EU (particularly Germany) and the U.S. For once, rising tensions around Idlib and the potential of a comprehensive ground attack by regime forces have brought the EU and Turkey to the same page so as to prevent another major influx of refugees and devise preemptive measures. This came on top of the recent Turkey-EU rapprochement triggered by nascent neo-protectionism of the U.S. and Ankara's desire for strategic balancing in the face of its deteriorating relations with the Trump administration.
But even more surprisingly, Turkey and the U.S. found themselves closely aligned on the specific crisis around Idlib as both powers strongly opposed a comprehensive ground attack by regime forces supported by Russia and Iran. While the underlying motivations and calculations of their opposition were radically different, the Idlib issue constituted a common ground between Ankara and Washington for the first time in a long period that has witnessed a series of diplomatic rows and strategic divergence. The appointment of former Ankara Ambassador James Jeffrey as the special envoy for Syria might also be an added advantage going forward.
But such is the character of the new global pseudo-order: Temporary, fragile, pragmatic and quickly shifting alliances on the basis of specifically-defined issues and problem areas. Those powers with more agile and adaptive decision-making communities who could read global and regional dynamics more effectively are bound to benefit more from this state of affairs.
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