Idlib and the Chess Game in the Region

The agenda has already changed, but I want to write about the Tehran Summit and the Idlib issue.

To begin with, let’s recall what happened at the Tehran Summit, which was attended by the presidents of Turkey, Iran, and Russia to discuss the fate of Idlib – a city of 3 million mostly displaced Syrians surrounded by the Syrian regime.

By: Özlem Albayrak

The summit was broadcast live, and it came to light that Turkey is the only country that concerns itself with the human factor in the region. It appears that the Idlib issue has settled down for now but there is no guarantee that a few months later the same crisis will not flare up again in a worse manner. Because Assad wants Idlib.

Although a 12-point joint statement was issued and in this declaration, there are articles that do not completely ignore civilians, we can say that the Tehran Summit has fell short of the point reached in Astana. And there is no sign that things will improve.

Efforts by Iran and Russia supporters to persuade Turkey to negotiate with Assad demonstrated that as long as Assad gains strength with the help of Tehran and Moscow, Turkey’s suggestions will continue to be rejected. Just like when Turkey suggested using the word “ceasefire” in the declaration, and Russia and Iran rejected it…

The reasonable suggestion that “Turkey should not be left out of the game anymore, it should start negotiations with Assad” is enough for me to get goosebumps, just like everyone else who has been watching what is going on in Syria for years. Because we are not talking about a dictator here, we are talking about an infamous butcher, a massive killer.

How can it happen? Is it possible? I don’t think it should happen. If a solution is to be found, it should be anything but beginning negotiations with Assad. Is there no such solution? Then it should be created somehow.

When it comes to the question of why Russia and Iran fell behind the Astana talks to take Turkey’s demands seriously and to accept the protection of civilians in the region as an important matter, one of the reasons – the most important one – is that both countries are not reliable actors to form deep and long-term alliances with. Both Russia and Iran act in accordance with their own interests and priorities without making any compromises. In the summit, Iran stated that “After Idlib; the second phase is the east of the Euphrates. The presence of the U.S. in Syria is not legitimate, and it should leave,” and added that the real problem of these two countries is with the U.S.

On the other hand, I think, even if Idlib is essential for Assad, Russia could have found a way to convince the Syrian president, whose control is completely in Russia’s hands, to make some concessions. Russia did not do this. Instead, it repeated Assad’s aim and intention and chose to escalate the crisis, and also proved its willingness to take the risk of going against Turkey in a live broadcast. Even though the U.S. was not able to exert its authority in the region both during the terms of Obama and Trump, made the greatest mistake it could ever make by supporting terrorist organizations that are enemies of Turkey and thereby losing Turkey’s trust and its influence in the region, Washington would not want to see Russia becoming too powerful. Thus, the current state of affairs, which seems like Turkey was let down again and things look bad at the first sight, the Tehran Summit might as well lead to better outcomes.

It is true that because of Washington’s support of the YPG-PYD, relations between Turkey and the U.S. cannot be restored in one day, and it can easily be said that their ties took a hit. But the very same relations have the potential to be restored because of the discomfort the U.S. will feel after Russia’s presence increases in Syria and Moscow takes complete control of the Eastern Mediterranean. The only thing missing is an American leader who can take the initiative. The fact that there is no such leader today, does not mean there will not be tomorrow.

The opposite would mean that the U.S. has abandoned its regional plans. The U.S. giving up on its Middle East plans means that it is giving up its claim to be an empire and I simply do not think that is going to happen. Therefore, it is not difficult to predict that Turkey-U.S. relations will be restored, even if it does not happen in the near future.

If we come back to Idlib; it demonstrates two realities. Firstly, those who have made negative comments about Russia up until today or those who have had their reservations regarding Russia are proven right. Secondly, by acting as an ally of Assad instead of restraining him and turning its back so quickly on Turkey, Russia has shot itself in the foot. Time will tell regarding the second reality, but my guess is that Putin is going to regret his move. I hope I will turn out to be right.