Tuesday, 23 December 2014

Turkey's Role in the Syrian Conflict.-'Ankara tries to recast war on terror'

The geopolitical stakes for the west's NATO ally in Turkey seldom get discussed in connection with the risky power game Recep Tayyip Erdogan's authoritarian government has been playing in its attempt to hijack the insurgency against Assad for its own political ends.

When Putin backs insurgents in Ukraine as part of a reassertion of Russian regional power he gets demonised and punitive sanctions get imposed. Putin's Russia is labelled a neo-Soviet threat. Where Erdogan has tried on a similar 'neo-Ottoman' strategy there is little public media criticism.

One difference is while Erdogan is trying to use its backing for Sunni Arab militants to prevent ethnic-nationalist secessionism from the Kurds of Syria-dominated by the YPD-Putin appeared to have encouraged it by championing Russophone Ukrainians in the south and east of its neighbour.

However, as threats to global security are concerned Erdogan's position is that ISIS is less a problem than the Kurdish militants. But the reason for Erdogan's previous backing for Sunni jihadists, in alignment with Qatar, was spelt out in this piece for Gulf News. Seyed Hossein Mousavian, an Iranian diplomat and Princeton University scholar wrote,

' energy, a factor in many global conflicts, plays a role in the Syrian conflict. The European Union is in desperate need of diversifying its gas supplies, especially in the wake of the Ukrainian crisis. The EU is worried about its dependence on Russian gas and is looking for alternative sources of supply. As a result of Turkey’s geographical position — located between large energy producers and the EU market — Turkey can play a substantial role in contributing to Europe’s energy security. The overthrow of Al Assad would put an end to the proposed Iran-Iraq-Syria natural gas pipeline running from the Iranian-Qatari South Pars/North Dome field towards Europe via Iran, Iraq, Syria and Lebanon. This would provide Turkey with a unique position acting as a European energy hub.

A pro-Turkish, Muslim Brotherhood-dominated Damascus government could potentially have closer relations with Hamas and would thus expand the influence and role of Turkey in the so-called Middle East peace process. Meanwhile, a like-minded Muslim Brotherhood government in Damascus would, regarding regional politics, weaken the role of Iran and Russia’s alliance on the one hand and the Gulf Cooperation Council countries’ on the other.
Iran and Syria have been the main corridor for Turkey’s export to the Arab-rich Middle Eastern countries. Given that Iran is viewed as a regional competitor by Turkey, disconnecting Syria from Iran and establishing a Muslim Brotherhood government in Syria would afford a secure trade passage for the export of Turkish goods to the Arabian Gulf and Middle Eastern countries as a whole....

Erdogan’s economic successes distorted his and his party’s perception of Turkish capabilities. Coupled with the religious and ultra-nationalist vision he subscribes to, this overestimation encouraged adventurist policies. Such overreaches have been motivated by the desire to curb Iran’s role and influence in the region and rebuild a new version of Ottoman Empire presumably linked to the ebb and flow of conflict between Ottoman Turks and the Safavid Persians in the 16th and 17th centuries.

Turkish policy is actually not so dissimilar from that being put forward by Putin, a policy better termed 'neo-Tsarist' in its attempt to reassert Russian influence in regions once part of the Russian Empire and then, after that, part of the Soviet Union until 1991 when it collapsed.

However, while both powers are up to pretty much the same, only Russia is singled out for criticism and condemnation. This is not only a question of mere 'politics' but of conflicts over access to resources and control over supply routes which threatens to become more psychopathological.