Russia’s Gentlemen’s Agreement With Turkey in Syria

By Ollie Richardson

The following are some raw facts that, as a sum of its parts, point to why both Turkey and Russia coordinated their actions in Syria, and ultimately why Russia will be the main beneficiary from such an agreement with Ankara. 

  • Turkey entered Syria with Russia’s consent

    Thinking about this logically, it is simply not possible for a Turkish tank to approach the Syrian border, let alone cross it, without Moscow’s prior permission. Also, in addition to proxy troops and tanks, Turkish F-16’s also entered Syrian Airspace, without a single condemnation from Russia. All we saw from the Foreign Ministry was a vague statement about respecting Syrian sovereignty. I repeat – there was NO condemnation – only the restating of basic principles of International Law. The statement from SANA cites “An official source at the Foreign and Expatriates Ministry”, which in actuality is very smart, as it’s not a high ranking person such as Assad, and thus the statement is almost advisory.

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  • Russia lifted all economic sanctions against Turkey

    The latest example of the resumption of friendly relations was reported  by RT on 28th of August – chartered flights to and from Turkey have now resumed. The fruits from the rapprochement between the two nations show a very clear narrative: we’ll scratch your back, if you scratch ours (and you owe us after the Su-24 shootdown). In this instance, the Turkish stream pipeline project is a major area of cooperation and gives Moscow a very useful bargaining chip in the grand scheme of things.

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  • Turkey did not stop at Jarablus

    The number of Turkish tanks inside Syria is now over 50, and they have not stopped at capturing Jarablus. Shortly afterwards, Turkish proxies took Manbij, and are now proceeding even more entrenched into Syrian territory. Again, this simply does not happen without Russia’s consent. These events are indicatory of Turkey’s ambitions in Syria, which may entail deeper involvement in the Aleppo cauldron.


    M60A3 Turkish Tank fighting the SDF in Jarablus


  • Russia was losing in Aleppo

    Back in early August, the duel between the US and Russia in Aleppo was reaching its apogee, with the fatigued Syrian Army showing signs of being overwhelmed by the sheer number of Jihadist reinforcements seemingly coming from the Jordanian border. This resulted in a trend where al-Nusra could capture in days what the Syrian Army could only capture in weeks/months. John Kerry explicitly told Russia that any attempts to bomb “moderate” positions would only result in increased support for them from the part of Washington. As a result, Russia moved away from South Aleppo and started to fiercely bomb North Aleppo – this occurred during the “Cessation of Hostilities” agreement signed by Lavrov and Kerry. As a result, taking advantage of the “ceasefire”, Jihadists began to reclaim territory in the South, leaving Russia in a rather precarious position. In addition to this, MANPADS were supplied to Jihadists by the US and friends (Turkey and Saud) in order to threaten Russia in the Homs and Idlib provinces. This resulted in the shootdown of the Mi-8 helicopter that was returning to Hmeymim airbase after distributing humanitarian aid.

    In retaliation, Russia sent some of their own toys to Yemen for the Houthis to use against Saudi tanks. The US, angered by this peripheral chess move, used the Kurdish card in order to push for the partition of Syria. This would involve the YPG heading to Hasakah and fighting the SDF and the Syrian Army, claiming it, and then moving gradually west towards Afrin. This is where the Kurdish dream of autonomy ends, as they were flushed by the US. Being fully aware of Turkey’s plans to enter Syria, the US offered their air support to pave a way for them as they crossed the border. Shortly afterwards, Joe Biden, in an attempt to repair relations with Ankara after the Gulen debacle,  gave the Kurds the order to give way to Turkish forces, and thus they retreated across the Euphrates post-haste.

  • US designed the battlefield to prevent Russia from separating the “radicals” from the “moderates”

    In what has been a very long process, Russia has worked tirelessly to persuade the US to allow the placement of groups such as Ahrar al-Sham and Jaish al-Islam  on the UN’s list of “known terrorist organisations”. This would give Russia the green light to bomb them with impunity as far as the US is concerned, and the opportunity to finally thin out the Takfiri herd surrounding Aleppo. However, this trick of calling a spade… well, not a spade, is the central column of the US’ operation in Syria, aside from the vast amounts of financing to “moderate” groups.Taking into account each of the aforementioned facts, it can be said with utmost confidence that some sort of deal has been struck between Russia and Turkey regarding their respective ambitions in the Levant. This deal clearly included an incursion into Jarablus (and beyond), but what did Russia get out of it? Yes, its true that the Kurdish ‘separatist’ plans have been indefinitely thwarted, but what about Aleppo?

    Russia tried to encourage the Jihadists inside Aleppo to leave via safe corridors, and to use Assad’s amnesty card, but instead innocent citizens were prevented from leaving at “moderate” gunpoint. Russia decided to then use the Iranian Hamadan card, and while it did intimidate the US and NATO, especially the Kalibr launches, it was ineffective in uprooting the entrenched terrorists, who are not as stupid as one may imagine them to be.

    So, with this monkey still on Russia’s back – the inability to separate the al-Nusra from the “FSA” umbrella – speculation about the fine-print of the deal with Erdogan can only point to one thing:

    Turkey agreed with Russia to block attempts by the US to merge groups and further blur the lines of what groups can and cannot be bombed. 

    The internet was rife with buzz last week about the announced Ahrar al-Sham merger with other groups such as Jabhat Fateh al-Sham, Nour al-Din al-Zenki, Liwa al-Haqq, Ajnad al-Sham, and suddenly there is nothing but tumbleweed on the Takfiri airwaves.

In order to accurately assess the details of the deal agreed between Turkey and Russia, it is important to consider the current state of play not just in Syria but in all conflict zones. What does Turkey get out of it? A foothold in Syria; a better vantage point to keep the Kurds at bay? What does Russia get out of it? A strong buffer in the north against the US?

Yes, Turkey did shootdown both a Russian helicopter (indirectly via proxies) and a jet (directly), and yes, Turkey has not closed its borders. But when we consider that both Russia and Turkey (since the departure of PM Davutoğlu) adhere to the realism branch of International Relations, it becomes clear that the strength of a Nation’s position at the bargaining table depends on the leverage it has and the means at its disposal to implement it.

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