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Mehmet Çağatay Güler

Research Assistant at the Foreign Policy Department of SETA Foundation, Ankara

On August 4, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan declared in a speech during an opening ceremony that Turkey will launch a military operation in Syria’s terrorist PKK/YPG-occupied eastern Euphrates region. After the official declaration of the upcoming operation, there occurred the question of “how will it affect the bilateral relations between Russia and Turkey?” There will be no negative repercussion of the operation on Russian-Turkish relations.

The discussions to create a safe zone inside Syria's northeastern border have been going on for months with no concrete solutions. Since there have not been taken any steps to fulfill promises given by U.S President Donald Trump, Ankara started to think that Washington has been stalling time and progress. Last week, the negotiations between delegations of U.S- Turkey remained left with no solution. On August 2, Foreign Ministry Spokesman Hami Aksoy said in a press conference that “If we cannot meet at a common point with the United States, we will have to create a safe zone by ourselves.” He also emphasized that a diversion will not be tolerated as happened before in creating Manbij road map. Hence, Turkey had no chance but to start its own “Peace Corridor” as the decision taken during the meeting of the Turkish National Security Council.

However, Russia will not lose anything as a result of the Turkish operation. In other terms, there is no direct threat towards Russia or its presence within Syria since there is no chance for a direct conflict between both countries. A Turkish operation against the YPG will not change the status of Russia in Syria. Hence, there is no reason for bilateral relations to be affected negatively. Furthermore, there is the Astana peace process which has been accomplished on the Syrian conflict. Turkey and Russia are the Astana partners who are managing the Syrian conflict together. In this regard, the Astana format’s importance will be boosted with Turkey’s military operation that limits the Syrian agenda of the U.S. The understanding between Turkey and Russia within the Astana format could not be achieved between Ankara and Washington regarding the Syrian issue. Unlike the U.S, both Turkey and Russia are promoting the territorial integrity of Syria.


On August 4, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan declared in a speech during an opening ceremony that Turkey will launch a military operation in Syria’s terrorist PKK/YPG-occupied eastern Euphrates region. After the official declaration of the upcoming operation, there occurred the question of “how will it affect the bilateral relations between Russia and Turkey?” There will be no negative repercussion of the operation on Russian-Turkish relations.

The discussions to create a safe zone inside Syria's northeastern border have been going on for months with no concrete solutions. Since there have not been taken any steps to fulfill promises given by U.S President Donald Trump, Ankara started to think that Washington has been stalling time and progress. Last week, the negotiations between delegations of U.S- Turkey remained left with no solution. On August 2, Foreign Ministry Spokesman Hami Aksoy said in a press conference that “If we cannot meet at a common point with the United States, we will have to create a safe zone by ourselves.” He also emphasized that a diversion will not be tolerated as happened before in creating Manbij road map. Hence, Turkey had no chance but to start its own “Peace Corridor” as the decision taken during the meeting of the Turkish National Security Council. The Peace Corridor designated by Turkey contains several sine-qua-non subjects that must be achieved. First, the depth of the safe zone planned to be created in northern Syria has to be 32 km. Second, the control of this region has to be given to Turkey. Third, this area has to be cleared from the PKK/YPG terrorist (Editor's note: The PKK/YPG have been designated as a terrorist group by Ankara). However, these three essential conditions to ensure Turkey’s national security prospects contradict the offers made by U.S delegations.

Considering the Russian presence in Syria and its alliance with the Assad regime, the US Special Envoy James Jeffrey argued that the high-dialogue between Russia and Turkey could be affected negatively as a consequence of operation towards Syria. However, several reasons prevent bilateral relations to get deteriorated.

At the outset, Turkish-Russian relations have been improving and getting strong by the long-term projects, commitments, and agreements. As such, Akkuyu NPP, TurkStream, and S400 missiles are indicators of enhancing bilateral cooperation. Neither side would want to jeopardize such a big budget and long-term commitment required projects. The Russian officials are very well aware of the pros and cons of both sides, and the gains from these projects far exceed the gains that could be achieved by taking side against Turkey in this operation. Therefore, Russia will not risk high-level dialogue by taking side against Turkey’s national security prerequisites.

Secondly, Russia will not lose anything as a result of the Turkish operation. In other terms, there is no direct threat towards Russia or its presence within Syria since there is no chance for a direct conflict between both countries. A Turkish operation against the YPG will not change the status of Russia in Syria. Hence, there is no reason for bilateral relations to be affected negatively. Furthermore, there is the Astana peace process which has been accomplished on the Syrian conflict. Turkey and Russia are the Astana partners who are managing the Syrian conflict together. In this regard, the Astana format’s importance will be boosted with Turkey’s military operation that limits the Syrian agenda of the U.S. The understanding between Turkey and Russia within the Astana format could not be achieved between Ankara and Washington regarding the Syrian issue. Unlike the U.S, both Turkey and Russia are promoting the territorial integrity of Syria.

Thirdly, the confrontation of two NATO members may even bring Turkey and Russia closer. Despite Turkey’s NATO member status and its strategic alliance stem from various aspects, Washington prefers to support a terrorist organization that endangers Turkey’s national security and Syria’s territorial integrity. Though the numerous calls made to have a consensus on the safe zone, U.S prefer to stall time and progress. Regardless of the Turkish efforts not to damage bilateral relations while having a decision on the Syrian conflict, Washington chose to continue to endorse YPG/PKK. In the end, a confrontation between two NATO members becomes inevitable. As a result, there occurs a high possibility that causes Russia and Turkey to come to a step closer as they are managing the Syrian conflict together and keeping a high-level dialogue that has recently been enhanced.

The last important factor is the fact that Russia can actually be benefited from the operation. As such, after the operation conducted, YPG control over the field will be restricted so as the U.S influence in the region. This is one of the goals that Russia has been in search of. Furthermore, Russia definitely would prefer Turkey rather than the U.S when it comes to on-field preferences. To wit, Kremlin believes that it would be easier to come to an agreement with Ankara rather than Washington as they have already done before in Astana peace process. In addition, the separatist agenda of the YPG that Russia also opposes would have been prevented.

Overall, Kremlin has nothing to lose but a good opportunity to have a significant long-term gain if the Turkish operation is successfully conducted. Besides, Moscow has nowhere to risk jeopardizing significant-high budgetary projects and high-level cooperation with Turkey. Also, there is a strong chance to have closer relations with Turkey amidst Turkish-US conflict. Thus, there seem no negative repercussions on Turkish-Russian relations as a result of the operation towards eastern Syria.


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