Why Russia and Turkey agree on Syrian ceasefire?


China Military
Yao Jianing


BEIJING, Jan. 3 (ChinaMil) -- There is a major turning point in the situation of Syria. Under the context that a number of victories have been achieved, the Syrian military announced a nationwide ceasefire from 0:00 on December 30, 2016, local time, aiming to create a favorable environment for political solution for the Syrian crisis.


Interestingly, the ceasefire is a result of joint truce efforts by Russia and Turkey. The two countries will act as guarantors, but also work on to promote the Syrian government and opposition representatives to have talks in Astana, capital of Kazakhstan.


Turkish-Russian relations fell to the freezing point since the Russian jet was shot down by Turkey at the end of 2015, but now it is almost reaching a new height after a "triple jump". Even after the Russian ambassador to Turkey was shot dead, the bilateral cooperation is still heading in positive direction.


In addition to the joint goal of purging the extremist organization "Islamic State", the geographical interests of the two sides in the Middle East weigh more in the choice of cooperation between Russia and Turkey.


For Russia, Syria is its important ally in the Middle East. And if the Bashar regime falls and a pro-Western regime is established, Russia will lose its last bridgehead in the Middle East. In the face of US military containment of both ends, such a situation is disastrous for Russia.


Sending troops in the name of fighting terrorism is righteous and can ease the pressure in the direction of Europe. With the smooth progress in the battlefield, Russia's influence on the Syrian conflict is also growing, forcing the US to re-engage in dialogue with Russia. With the support of Turkey, Russia has further expanded the "circle of friends" in the Middle East to more effectively hedge the expansion of the US and Europe in Eastern Europe.


As a traditional regional power, Turkey also has vital interests in the Syrian conflict. Turkey has always been worried about Kurdish armed forces in Iraq and Syria, fearing that they would join hands with the Kurdish separatist forces inside Turkey. And thus, Turkey has identified Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) as a terrorist organization. However, the US provides weapons to PKK for their own interests, in order to help PKK fight against "Islamic State".


In order to resist the US support for PKK, Turkey has adjusted its diplomatic strategy and as a result, Turkey apologized for shooting down Russian fighter, and began to cooperate with Russia and Iran on Syrian issues. The two countries have established a military coordination mechanism to avoid conflicts and in return, Russia's "acquiescence" also allowed Turkey to cross the border into Syria to combat the Kurdish armed forces.


On the other hand, Turkey was disappointed at the US and Europe. Turkey has long been treated as " a second-class citizen of the NATO" by the US and Europe and was repeatedly accused by them who apparently have a sense of moral superiority.


More often, the US and Europe only use Turkey as a tool to balance the situation in the Middle East, but do not want to give any benefits to Turkey.


After Turkey shot down the Russian fighter, the US and Europe refused to stand by Turkey. In the acceptance of the Middle East refugees, Turkey has not been able to get the necessary economic support from the US and Europe. Moreover, there is no hope left for Turkey in the negotiations to join the EU.


In the attempted coup in Turkey last July, the US and Europe did not offer any help and also accused Erdogan of taking the opportunity to clearing his "political opponent".


But Russia, who was in tense relations with Turkey at that time, seized the opportunity and took the initiative to provide intelligence and early warning for Turkey. Russia also condemned the coup and called it "an action that undermines the Constitution." The two sides took advantage of the opportunity and the tension quickly eased.


After the assassination of the Russian ambassador to Turkey, the two presidents said that the purpose of this attack is to undermine the relationship between Turkey and Russia.


At present, the US strategy in the Middle East shows a contraction trend and the "air anti-terrorism" efforts which have spanned over one year did not work out. And, the US policy in the Middle East will face adjustment after Trump takes office.


Therefore, the US and Russia may re-coordinate their position on the Syrian conflict. By then, the development of the relationship between Russia and Turkey will need to be further observed.

The article was originally published on the PLA Daily. The authors are Zhang Yini and Chen Yue.


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