Interesting how Western media and politicians react to Trump’s dilemma in northern Syria. In addition to concerns that ISIS might regain strength, a new civil war, waves of refugees, and humanitarian disaster, one main criticism was that it would destroy the reliability and credibility of the US and if Trump made similar fickle decisions in the Baltics, Eastern Europe or Taiwan it could be misinterpreted as an invitation to Putin and Xi and could lead to threatening situations even between the major powers. However, the main concern was: Putin is portrayed as the winner and new ordering power for the Middle East and the Greater Middle East. As a kind of supplier for international security as Russian strategist Karaganov likes to see it..
I guess the Russians are now trying to prevent Turkish and Syrian troops from being involved in direct combat and to find a long-term solution to ensure that the northern Syrian security zone is not permanently occupied by the Turkish. But in this security zone are mainly Assad opponents and Turkey-equipped Islamist assassin militia who want to overthrow Assad and continue to fight against him, as well as they want to expel and disperse the YPG and the resident Kurds. For the Russians it would be best if Assad controlls as much as possible of Syria and that Turkey is leaving NATO and moving farther away from the West. Nevertheless, a Middle East expert said that Russia still can not play the role of a regulatory power in the Middle East, otherwise an imperial overstretch succeeds, especially since Putin has a deep economic crisis at home like Erdogan und tries to compensate it by foreign political adventure and nationalism and enthusiasm for home consumption. But the question is: Can Russia replace the USA as new regulatory power in the Middle East.
A key question in this context is how the Russian-Syrian-Turkish relations could evolve. Review: Prior to the Arab Spring, relations between Erdogany and Assad Syria were very good due to Davotoglu’s zero-problem policy, with Turkish and Syrian forces even holding joint military maneuvers. With the Arab Spring, Erdogan made a 180-degree turn, openly supporting the Muslim Brotherhood and other Islamists and wanted to overthrow Assad. Davatoglu was deposed, shall now be excluded from the AKP and thinks about the founding of a separate party. Now, the question is whether Erdogan could make such a 180 degree turn again, or hold on to his neo-Ottoman dreams of power. Perhaps an option would be if Russia mediates between Assad and Erdogan and proposes a kind of confederation model. The Assad opponents in the northern security zone as part of the Syrian territory with certain autonomy rights, a Constituent Assembly negotiating a post-war order – perhaps with the guarantors Russia, Turkey and Iran. But it is interesting if this can happen at all and if Erdogan does not pursue his neo-Ottoman ambitions. Moreover, it is also difficult to see how a secular Baath party should coexist with the Muslim Brotherhood and other Islamists. Both sides do not want Tunisian democracy, especially not the Baath Party. In addition, it also has to be found out whether Russia has so much influence at all to mediate between Assad and Erdogan and to make them compromise.
And the West? Trump now completely withdraws the US troops, imposes under pressure from the Republicans, Democrats and evangelicals economic sanctions against Turkey, which will not lead to the situation that Erdogan gives in, but now let him move closer to Russia. Some politicians like Asselborn even fear that a direct confrontation between Turkish and Syrian troops could also trigger the NATO case and then the nuclear power Russia could intervene. Perhaps some desperate US hawks also hope for the scenario that Turks and Syrians would kill each other, or that even Assad could fall through NATO and Erdogan- Turkey, which is probably an outsider position. The EU writes protest notes, but does not come to a joint sanctions decision, except that Germany and Britain stop new arms exports. Otherwise the West only jealously grunts as now the EU and the US no longer determining regulatory power in the Middle East.Except Trump´s ambition to bring down Iran as a regional power.
The Wesetner regime change policy has failed and brought a disatser and instability in the Greater Middle East. Even after the desatrous Iraq war 2003 , destabilisation efforts in Syria and Lybia continued. In the case of Syria Germany and the USA tried to play a leading role in a regime change. When the Arab Spring in Syria came in 2011, the US and Germany fully relied on the overthrow of Assad. The expression of this was the paper The Day after .jointly funded by the US and German Foreign Ministries of the Foundation Science and Politics (Stiftung Wissenschaft ud Politik/SWP), which set a constitutional timetable for the post-Assad era and at the same time held a conference of the Syrian exile opposition, including the Muslim Brotherhood and other Islamists, in Berlin. As a result, they saw themselves as the great power of order. After the disaster, a complete retreat and jealous bluster. And thanks to the refugee deal, the EU members have now tied their hands to Erdogan. Maybe Russia and the regional powers will call for the EU to be the paymaster for the reconstruction of post-war Syria as it is unlikely that Trump will invest much money in it, but this won´t make the EU to a new regularatory power in the Middle East.
But the question is whether this is not an underestimation of Russian diplomacy and its potential due to Western envy, especially as the question is whether the US has been a power of disorder in the Greater Middle East since the Iraq war in 2003, the global bully and if his interplay of regimechange wars and movements and disengagement are more responsible for the instability in the region.
A worried German diplomat perceives the Turkish invasion as follows:
„Overall approval. However, it can not be overlooked that the immediate results of the Trump decision and the invasion of Erdogan will be a further destabilization of the entire region and a growing influence of Moscow. Putin’s announced trip to MBS underscores this development.
The loss of authority of the US and the EU is evident. The risks in the region and in Germany are increasing. I am thinking in particular of clashes between Erdogan Turks and PKK / YPG Kurds. To this day in the Tagesspiegel a remarkable interview of the Left-politician Tas, a PKK Kurd in the Berlin House of Representatives. „
I find Putin’s approach to Mohammed Bin Salmann interesting, especially since Moscow has so far been quite close to Iran. Putin has even promised to supply arms to Saudi Arabia, especially as it has certain common interests with the OPEC leadership nation SA as an oil power regarding the price of oil. Does Moscow change the horse or does it want to mediate between SA and Iran, especially as the drone attack on the oil refineries of SA have indeed shown its vulnerability and may have caused MBS to rethink his aggressive policy, whether a war and further confrontation with Iran is the most promising option.
Moscow’s ambition could be to reach a compromise between SA and Iran by persuading Iran to withdraw its Revolutionary Guards from Syria and, conversely, to persuade SA to finance Syria as a financier in the post-war order, thus taking a first step towards détente between the two regional powers , who opens the gates in perspective then also for US-Iranian talks or a Trump-Putindeal. In addition, Pakistan is now trying to become an intermediary between Iran and SA. Trump, Iran and Israel remain the unpredictable factors. Trump could positively assess Russia’s mediating role and see it as well as the regional powers responsible for the stability of the Greater Middle East and not the US. But until then it is an uncertain, long, difficult road with some unpredictability and it must first be found out whether Putin-Russia has the political, if not economic potential (the latter perhaps by bringing SA, the Gulf States and China, including the New Silk Road as economic powers as a supplement) as a power of order in the Middle East, also as an indicator of the concept of the Russian strategist Karaganov, who wants to define Russia’s new mission as supplier for global security and peace. Or if it runs the risk of suffering an imperial overstretch.
RIAC chief Dr. Kortunov has some sceptisims about Karaganov´s vision of Russia´s new mission as a international security provider:
„The question then arises: is Moscow capable of preserving the current status quo in Syria – and indeed in the region as a whole – in the long term, even if this status quo is in Russia’s interests? At the time of this writing, such preservation would seem unlikely not only over the long term, but even over the medium term. This means that Moscow must look for solutions to the problems of the Middle East that would allow Russia to convert its current military successes into more sustainable – even if more contestable – political influence in the region.
The official position of Moscow is that the best solution to the challenges of the Middle East would be to create an inclusive regional collective security system. Such a system would be tantamount to a Middle East version of the European Helsinki process of the 1970s, with the active support of the UN Security Council and the formation of a regional counterpart of the Organization for Security and Cooperation (OSCE) in Europe. Perhaps such a design, while not possible in the foreseeable future, would be a solution to the security problems of the region – although it is worth noting that, in Europe itself, this model did not prevent the Ukrainian crisis of 2014. „
First published in Global Brief Magazine.
The NME-CSCE was originally an idea of former German foreign minister Hans Dietrich Genscher and National security adviser to the US president Brzezinski in the 80s, but didn´t materialize even after decades. Therefore the quesition is if the situation today and the international constellation are better for such a multilateral framework and if Russia will be able to achieve where Western powers failed. Before such a NME-CSCE could be realized you first have to bring back Syria in the Arab League and also bring the non-Arab regional powers Turkey and Iran in the framework of such a NME-CSCE. Putin´s meetings with Saudiarabia´s Mohamed Bin Salman try to get Syria in the Arab League and to promote a detente between Iran and Saudiarabia.This efforts and their outcome could be a first step towards such a regional collective security system , but it will be a difficult and long road.
That the West and the EU in Syria have not yet completely deregistered, was made clear in the Anne Will talkshow „Where is Europe?“. Norbert Röttgen (CDU), Chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee in the Bundestag Ben Hooges, Lieutenant General a.D., former Commander of the US Army in Europe and Wolfgang Ischinger, Chairman of the Munich Security Conference developed further thoughts. While Sevim Dagdelen (Die Linke), deputy parliamentary leader in the Bundestag, mainly quoted the human rights violations and demanded tough economic sanctions against Turkey, arguing that the US wanted to keep Turkey in NATO under all circumstances she instead wants impose severe economic sanctions. Röttgen said that although this nuclear option could be used, it would probably not work, but one would have to consider the whole realpolitik in a careful balance between interests and values. Röttgen, Hodges and Ischinger wanted to bring Dagdelen back to the real political carpet away from her human rights focus.
Ischinger said that realpolitik must realizethe fact that Russia and Assad had won the war. The restoration of diplomatic relations between Assad-Syria and the West would therefore be a logical prospect. Ischchinger suggested an EU special envoy based on the US and Russian model Since the EU was not able to act, the E3, Germany, France and England would have to go ahead. Hodges said that Germany would have a special role to play, as it would have the best relations with Russia. Ischinger and Röttgen said that Russia was not interested to wage in Syria alone and to play the lonely law enforcer and regulatory power. Because the situation in Ukraine was deadlocked, Syria might offer the chance to come into business with Russia.
This idea now seems to have been voiced by CDU party leader and German Defense Minister Anette Kramp. Karrenbauer: She called for a UN Security Zone in North Syria She has now put this issue on the agenda of NATO. It remains unclear whether NATO as a whole shall be deployed at the UN Security Zone, as there is no consensus or agreement within the EU on this just a coalition of the willing. This would probably also require a Bundeswehr participation. France and Great Britain (despite Brexit) could be convinced of it, only Trump might not want to get involved. Let’s see what comes out at the Putin Erdogan-meeting.
While Merkel quotes the security interests of Turkey against a Kurdish state and doesn´t use the term that Turkey´s invasion in Northern Syria violates international law, in order not to endanger Erdogan’s refugee deal and to keep Turkey in NATO, Maas and the Scientific Service of the German Bundestag disagree. Röttgen and Ischinger said that it was in the strategic interests of the West that Turkey, with NATO’s second largest army after the US, remains in NATO and not switch to Putin. Röttgen said that realpolitik and value politics could be pursued at the same time.While Russia won´t accept NATO as a whole to get involved in a UN Security Zone and it seems unlikely that Trump will reengage in Syria, it might be willing to accept European troops in a framework it has now the power to define.
Former NATO commander Hans-Lothar Domröse calls for European protection forces in Syria. The Bundeswehr could have a leadership role. In an interview with the Handelsblatt he declared:
„If the Europeans got such a UN mandate, that would be good and right. But if I understood that correctly, it would be a 110 kilometer long protection zone along the Turkish-Syrian border. An air surveillance would not be enough, you would then have to stand there with ground troops, which visibly show the population: We protect you. As in Kosovo. That would be possible. (…)
I think so, if there is the UN mandate, and France, Britain and Germany would be the core force. Necessary would be three brigades. If a brigade were under the leadership of the Bundeswehr, it would be possible. If this consisted of five battalions, two could be made from Germany, one from the Netherlands, one from the Baltic and one from Poland, the Czech Republic, Hungary. If you want, that would work, and the Bundeswehr would be able to do that. And maybe the Russians could be won over to participate in an international mission. In Kosovo they were there.
Ms. Kramp-Karrenbauer has said nothing about ground forces, and in the SPD the idea does not seem to be enthusiastic, to say the least. But Germany has the EU Council Presidency in 2020, and that is why the Federal Government should also develop proposals for such difficult conflicts in the EU neighborhood. Decisive is the UN mandate, therefore Germany should strive. (…)
That does not mean you should not try it there. We do not know how Russia and China will behave then. And of course it is also unclear how the British are going to make an EU mission. They want to get out of Europe. Besides, we do not know: what does Trump want? „
A Turkish diplomat, however, wrote: „That’s all empty talk again. Until and if the Europeans make such a UN troop, a lot of time will pass and by then Turkey has created facts. “