As we wrote yesterday, the opportunity for Russian President Vladimir Putin and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erodgan to come up with some kind of way to say they are cooperating in Syria that pointedly sidelines the United States might be a temptation too tasty to pass up. It looks like we were right. AFP:
Turkey on Thursday called on Russia to carry out joint operations against Islamic State (IS) in Syria, after crucial talks between President Vladimir Putin and Turkish counterpart Recep Tayyip Erdogan aimed at ending a crisis in ties.
The comments by Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu came as a Turkish delegation was in Russia for talks aimed at coordinating actions on Syria and other bilateral issues.
“We will discuss all the details. We have always called on Russia to carry out anti-Daesh (IS) operations together,” Cavusoglu said in a live interview with the private NTV television, adding that the proposal was still “on the table”.
Cavusoglu urged Russia to fight against the “common enemy” of IS jihadists in Syria.
“Let’s fight against the terrorist group together, so that we can clear it out as soon as possible,” the minister said, warning otherwise that the group would keep on expanding and spread into other countries.
This is not an insignificant development, but it’s still very notional and vague—more a PR statement than an announcement of a policy initiative. The key will be seeing just how much follow-up there is. Both sides want this problem cleaned up,
That’s not all Cavusoglu said the two countries are up to. From a separate interview:
Turkey and Russia will establish a joint military, intelligence and diplomacy mechanism, Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said Wednesday.
Speaking at Anadolu Agency’s Editors’ Desk, Cavusoglu said the previous day’s meeting between Presidents Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Vladimir Putin had paved the way for closer ties following a nine-month freeze after the shooting down of a Russian warplane.
“The officials will go to St. Petersburg tonight,” Cavusoglu said. “Our delegation will consist of foreign ministry [personnel], the Turkish Armed Forces, along with our intelligence chief.” […]
“Turkey wanted to cooperate with NATO members up to this point,” the minister said. “But the results we got did not satisfy us. Therefore, it is natural to look for other options. But we don’t see this as a move against NATO.”
And more, via Reuters:
Turkey may seek other options outside NATO for defense industry cooperation, although its first option is always cooperation with its NATO allies, Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said on Thursday.
Again, this is not insignificant, but is still very much more aspirational than concrete, more PR than policy.
On the question of defense industry cooperation, for example, FDD’s Boris Zilberman reiterates a point we touched on yesterday:
They've flirted with acquiring Russian/Chinese systems in the past. NATO interoperability big hurdle. https://t.co/HibCs3gY4A
— Boris Zilberman (@rolltidebmz) August 11, 2016
And Eurasia Group’s Ian Bremmer hits on the bigger picture hurdles to a true alliance developing between the two countries, at least in the near term:
Russia-Turkey relations will improve
1 Black Sea defense issues
2 Crimean Tatars
3 Assad v Kurds
4 Armenia v Azerbaijan
— ian bremmer (@ianbremmer) August 11, 2016
That all said, the United States shouldn’t be complacent. As two noted (Turkophile!) experts, Steven A. Cook and Michael J. Koplow, wrote in a must-read WSJ piece yesterday, on the immediate question of pursuing its regional priorities, the Obama Administration ought to consider alternative arrangements:
It would be one thing to overlook the way the Turks have behaved if Ankara were indispensable to U.S. efforts in the Middle East and Central Asia. It is not.
Incirlik’s runways are important. The bombing of Islamic State is an American priority, as is funneling weapons to the Syrian rebels. But both missions could be carried out from elsewhere. The baseless allegations leveled at the U.S. suggest that Mr. Erdogan might rescind American access to the base merely to demonstrate that he can. It would be prudent for the U.S. to develop a plan to redeploy forces outside Turkey, making arrangements to use airstrips in Cyprus, Jordan and the Kurdish Region in Iraq, for example.
The twilight months of the Obama Administration are going to be busy ones.