Turkey’s move to quell the rebellion in Idlib signals further fracturing of its ties with NATO.
The Turkish army, along with Syrian rebel groups, are moving into Idlib province in northwestern Syria to begin the operation to eliminate the various factions linked to Al-Qaeda entrenched there.
This move could be seen as an aggressive one where Turkey is taking advantage of the situation to annex more territory from his long-time adversary, Bashar al-Assad. But, that, in my opinion, would be the wrong interpretation.
Russian President Vladimir Putin has made it abundantly clear in recent weeks that the goal of the Russian military operation in Syria is the restoration of the country’s territorial integrity. Erdogan would be the biggest fool on the planet if he thought he could get away with a betrayal of that nature after having signed onto the Astana peace process now multiple times.
But, given Turkey’s former alliance with many of the groups on the ground in Idlib, Turkey is the perfect actor to move in to eliminate them. As the Saker points out regularly, the Russians do not have the force projection power to accomplish this goal. And, with the liberation of the area east of the Euphrates River ongoing, neither does the Syrian Arab Army.
Turkey making this move now ensures the quickest settlement of the war in Syria. Will Erdogan extract a huge price from Putin to do this and give up his neo-Ottoman dreams? Yes. Is Turkey getting Russian S-400 missile defense systems? Yes.
I’m sure the agreements between Putin and Erdogan are far deeper than that, especially since Turkey is now in a full-blown diplomatic row with its NATO partner, the United States.
Turkey made the choice to back Russia and Iran’s play in Syria, choosing to contain the Kurds rather than stay loyal to NATO which was backing Kurdish independence. Once that choice was made, early last year, everything has simply followed from that decision.
Erdogan knows now that Turkey no longer has a future as a member of NATO and is no longer interested in even keeping up appearances. The U.S., having backed last July’s coup attempt against him in his mind, has lost all credibility and power with him. All that’s left is kicking us out of the airbase at Incerlik.
I’m sure the nukes are long gone.
But, in doing so, this means that the full-on diplomatic and financial squeeze on Turkey by the U.S. is starting. The Lira immediately crashed once markets opened yesterday on the news of the visa-suspension by the U.S. The Turkish economy is already fragile.
The U.S. is going to lean in here with everything we have. Expect the ratings agencies to come through with debt quality downgrades while traders begin attacking not only foreign exchange markets but stock and bond markets as well.
Until Turkey is summarily kicked out of NATO, not likely, the U.S. will likely not sanction them. But, this new regime of targeted sanctions of individuals, not countries, is what will come next.
But, trust me, Putin and Erdogan know all about this. If you think Putin didn’t prep Erdogan for this eventuality you are naïve. Suffice it to say that Turkey will get the full backing of Russia, China and Iran in any attempts to crash the Turkish economy and foment further civil unrest to unseat Erdogan.
Remember, it was Turkish banks, laundering gold, that allowed Iran to still interact with the rest of the world during their expulsion from SWIFT and the sanctions regime from 2012 to last year’s signing of the JCPOA.
This is the other side of his ‘brutal crackdowns on dissent,’ the removal of fifth column agents within his own government, media and military. In a world headed for wide-scale war, everyone becomes an agent of a foreign power who needs to be controlled.
This is not absolving Erdogan of his crimes, but rather the reality he is facing. The ethics of the situation are for a different discussion.
Trump’s Turkey Day
In some ways Trump’s insistence on decertifying the Iran Nuclear deal is another pressure point on Turkey. It will put them in the position to support a fully-sanctioned Iran again, as I discussed above.
Turkey allows its banks to use gold as reserves and this is how it helped launder billions in Iranian oil sales between the two countries previously.
But, the world has changed in the past few years. Iran now has a lot more friends, many of them in Western Europe. Russia and China have replacements for the SWIFT messaging system. Billions flow through the cryptocurrency markets daily now, and anonymously.
There are now literally dozens of vehicles out there to ensure the free flow of capital across borders to mitigate the effects of another SWIFT expulsion and economic isolation regime.
If someone doesn’t explain this to Donald Trump in the next few days, he’s going to help spur the development of even more of them and hasten the demise of the U.S.’s ability to dictate policy via financial strength around the world.
If you want to know why the U.S. establishment is so angry at this point, it is because with this move by Turkey, to quote Darth Vader, their “failure (in Syria) is complete.”
Turkey’s move into Idlib is the beginning of the next phase in the geopolitical re-balancing and along with Saudi Arabia bending the knee in Moscow this past weekend, is stating quite clearly the new alliance between Russia, Turkey and Iran is beyond the U.S.’s control.