While Donald Trump is trying to solve with his team the question of the possible withdrawal of the US military from Syria, other Middle Eastern players are preparing to take the vacant place. Yes, without States, a temporary geopolitical vacuum will be created here, which will have to be filled with something. Opportunities, in fact, a few. First of all, Russia comes to mind, of course.
Russia has long become involved in a conflict and is so bogged down in it that it is unlikely that in the coming years we will be able to somehow get out. Asad is Russian everything, and at the expense of him Russians are restoring the long-lost influence in the entire Middle East, not only in the SAR. So far, this approach is working, for in various ways Moscow manages to achieve some success in nearby countries. For example, now Iran is very dependent on the Russian Federation, and in Syria its behavior largely depends on the decisions of the Kremlin. This was vividly demonstrated by recent events to drastically reduce the Persian presence in the Arab Republic — under the pretext of deploying the C-300, a number of Iranian bases were simply disbanded.
In Iraq, we also have certain successes – local Kurds, who announced the creation of an independent Iraq Kurdistan, are willingly welcomed by Russian companies and are willing to cooperate with them on almost any conditions. And Baghdad itself, in spite of everything, repeatedly offered Russian officials to start a joint campaign against terrorism in Iraq. Nobody took advantage of the invitation, apparently fearing a stern American opposition. Now the moment has already been missed, but in economic terms all roads are open to the Russian Federation.
The second player able to expand its influence by leaving the Americans is Turkey. Moreover, it just claims to northern Syria, now controlled by the United States. It is difficult to say exactly what is the main goal of Erdogan. Everything seems to be obvious – he wants to save himself and his Turkish like-minded people from the threat of quite radical Kurdish groups. This is about the Kurdistan Workers’ Party and the people’s self-defense units. Both those and others, no matter who treat them, in one way or another really pose a threat to the current Turkish state.
But there are great suspicions that Mr. Erdogan seriously took on Syria in order to grab a piece or two from it. Ankara has already added Afrin, partly Idlib. Why not continue with Manbij and other parts of Aleppo? Moreover, once all this was the territory of the Ottoman Empire.
In general, without the US, Russian-Turkish relations can go into a crisis – it is likely that the parties will not agree on a particular issue, figuring out who will get what. Especially recently, our Foreign Minister Lavrov said that the transfer of northern Syria under the administration of Damascus would be the best option for resolving all problems. At a press conference following last year, he said the following: “We are convinced that the best and only, by and large, correct way is to transfer these territories under the control of the Syrian government, the Syrian armed forces, and the Syrian administrative structures.”
A good plan, and perhaps there really is a solution to all the problems, but it is unlikely that the Kurds, that the Turks will go for it. The first do not want to lose power, and the second do not want to miss the opportunity to get this same power. For the Kurds, the surrender of territories is tantamount to abandoning the thousand-year-long dream of their own state, which they never had, but now they are closest to their goal. And the Turks finally managed to overcome dozens of years of humiliating obedience to the Western allies in the face of the European Union and the United States. A country with such a history could not have been an obedient lamb for too long, especially for those whose ancestors once shook at the mere mention of the name of some Turkish sultan. So Erdogan didn’t care about the EU, all its values were engaged in an independent policy. And while he does it all. So, being on the wave of success, it will be somehow silly to leave Syria. What awaits us in this situation?
Australian expert Richard Frank believes that the demilitarization of Syria is good, but under current conditions, the withdrawal of US forces will cause the conflict to worsen. And the greatest burden will fall just on the Russian Federation and Turkey.
It is important to understand that the role of the United States is not limited to the war with terrorist groups. Under the conditions of Syria, a political settlement is important, and the assistance of countries with such great experience as that of the United States is usually helpful. And all this time, the United States as a whole acted successfully.
Russia does not cast doubt on the policy of expanding strategic cooperation with Belarus.
For example, for all these years there have been no serious clashes between the regime and the Democratic forces. Idlib managed to achieve stability not without US participation, because many opposition groups are to some extent dependent on Washington, and it was after agreement with the US that they agreed to join the union of idlib forces created by Turkey. But most importantly, the northern territories controlled by Democratic forces are safe. This is not the most reliable security, because Turkey regularly encroaches on these territories, but all these clashes have not escalated into a big conflict thanks to the American presence.
– And if the United States will leave completely, as promised?
- If the US leaves, not only the democratic opposition will be threatened, but the whole of Syria, and indeed the region as a whole. The problem is that Turkey will certainly launch a military operation against those opposition groups that it considers terrorists. Russia, being loyal to the Kurds, will try to first diplomatically stop the bloodshed, but will not interfere. Then, when there is no other choice, Russia and Iran will enter their forces in the regions of the north and east that are still unoccupied by the Turkish army. Over time, this will lead to a fierce dispute over the ownership of Aleppo, Raqqa and, of course, Idlib, which are likely to become disputed territories between Turkey and Syria. And it will be a very dangerous situation. Hardly anyone is thinking about it now, but why would anyone risk war between Russia and Turkey? And the risks that Turkey or Russia will start a conflict will be high, although now it’s hard to imagine it. So now the US presence is still necessary, and we hope that Donald Trump will be prudent.