Iniquitous Anti-Turkey Alliance in Syria
The regional opponents of Turkey are trying to move their geopolitical struggles in the Mediterranean area into the Syrian field. It is asserted that Mohammed bin Zayed, the Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and the Vice Commander of the United Arab Emirates (UAE) Armed Forces, offered a strategic alliance to the Damascus administration. According to the secret meeting held on February between the UAE and Damascus, the UAE administration tried to persuade the Damascus government into enacting an attack against the Turkish forces and Syrian National Army in Idlib. The UAE proposed to provide financial support, implement investments in infrastructure in areas which are controlled by the regime, and lobby for the removal of the sanctions imposed by the United States on Damascus, if the Damascus regime accepts the plan at hand. The Damascus administration has asserted that it neither received financial support from Iran nor Russia, however it is conveyed that the nation has accepted UAE’s offer of $ 3 billion.
The effort of the UAE to become an ally with the Damascus administration is a step taken against Turkey’s Syrian and Libyan policies. . Also, Russia’s policy which triggered the Idlib crisis was the same in vein. Through the Idlib crisis, it was attempted to make Turkey give up on its Libya policy. As it is known, Turkey supported the internationally recognized Libyan National Reconciliation Government (UMH) in Libya, while the UAE, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and Russia supported the commander Khalifa Hafter of the so-called Libyan National Army (LUO) who was in opposition. In the last Idlib crisis there was not only the Russia-Damascus-Iran alliance. These actors were the only visible faces of the incident. . The reality behind the situation was the partnership between Russia, the UAE, Saudi Arabia, and Egypt.
The Aim is to Block Turkey
During the Idlib crisis, Russia was acting hand in hand with the Gulf Monarchies. The proposal for an alliance made by the UAE to Damascus in the ongoing environment of the Idlib crisis was within Russia’s knowledge. Russia was even included in the process. Russian high-level government officials made visits to the Gulf countries in a row. On January the 23rd , the head of Russia's Foreign Intelligence Service, Sergey Narashkin, discussed the Syrian crisis with Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince, Mohammed bin Salman. On February the 4th , the Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov visited the UAE and Oman. Lavroz criticized Turkey’s Idlib policy by stating that he was on the same page with the UAE on the situation in Syria, after conducting the meeting closed to press with his UAE counterpart. After Lavrov, Narashkin, the head of the Russian Foreign Intelligence Service visited Oman and the UAE on February the 11th , he conducted meetings with these countries heads of their intelligence units, where the meetings main subjects were the Idlib crisis and the security issues in the Middle East.
Russia announced that the rationale behind the attacks towards Idlib was “battling with terrorism”. However, it is impossible to claim that Russia did not know that the radical elements which were supported by Saudi Arabia and the UAE posed a problem for Turkey. Therefore, the terrorist groups backed up by the Gulf monarchies are preparing the grounds for the operations against Idlib under the name of “struggle against terrorism” with the Asad regime, Russia, and Iran. In other words, the struggles against the terror elements in Idlib were in fact a means for achieving these countries foreign policy goals. In fact, their primary goal was to surpass Turkey’s Syrian and Libyan policies and bring their own geopolitical interests to life.
Russia’s Attitude Change
However, Russia was forced to change its Idlib policy with the increase in risk of a direct confrontation with Turkey in Idlib. They accepted the ceasefire recommendation of Turkey. On the 5th of March in Moscow an agreement text was signed between Turkey and Russia. While Turkey showed through this agreement that it will not take a step back from Libya and Idlib, Russia on the other hand displayed that it had abandoned its confrontational policy towards Turkey and changed its stance on Libya. The Moscow agreement and Russia’s alteration on the policies of Idlib and Libya has negatively affected the Saudi Arabia-the UAE-Egypt trio’s expectations of Libya and Idlib. The failure of the plan to push Turkey back from Libya and Russia’s comprise with Turkey has led the Saudi Arabia- the UAE- Egypt trio to pursue their goals against Turkey through other means than Russia.
Since 2012, Saudi Arabia, the UAE, and Egypt have cut off their diplomatic relations with the Syrian government, terminated Syria’s membership from the Arab League, and some opposition armed groups opposed to the Damascus regime were supported by these countries. Saudi Arabia had established an umbrella organization consisting of salafi groups under the name of “The Army of Islam” from 2013, supplying them with military training, weapons, and financial support. Through changing their Syrian policy, the Saudi Arabia-the UAE-Egypt trio has clearly sided against Turkey with the Libyan crisis, however they have not only supported salafi opposition groups, but also aimed to establish diplomatic relations with the Damascus administration and aimed to mobilize the armed groups at the east of the Euphrates, including the terrorist organization of PYD/YPG to take one united front against Turkey. On February 2020, Saudi Arabia’s special representative of Syria visited the east of the Euphrates and held meetings to establish an armed organization made up of Arab tribes and to arm the existing ones. After the Moscow agreement was signed, in mid-March Egypt held meetings with both the Damascus administration and with the terrorist organization of PYD/YPG and sought to become a mediator between the two actors to sooth their relations. Also, Egypt has opened diplomatic representation and a television channel for the terrorist organization of PYD/YPG in Cairo and has begun to provide large amounts of military aid to the organization to fight against Turkey. The PYD/YPG not only provides Egypt with significant amounts of military and financial support, but also to the UAE and Saudi Arabia. Thus, the aim of the Saudi Arabia- the UAE-Egypt trio is to strengthen the PYD/YPG militarily and to bring the Damascus regime and the PYD/YPG to meet in the middle to act jointly against Turkey in both Idlib and in the east of the Euphrates.
As a result of Turkey’s policies and the Moscow agreement, Russia has implemented a specific stance towards its relations with Saudi Arabia- the UAE-Egypt regarding Libya and Idlib, and does not want the Damascus regime to violate the ceasefire in Idlib by taking control of the Arab countries and come face to face with Turkey again. Concerned about the efforts of the Gulf countries, Putin instructed the Defense Minister Sergey Shoygu to go to Damascus on March 23rd with the company of the head of the Russian Military Intelligence (GRU) Admiral Igor Kostyukov. The purpose of Shoygu’s visit was to warn Assad from taking any steps that would violate the ceasefire.
The Regime’s Plans Could Backfire
The UAE-Saudi Arabia-Egypt partnership is striving to build a new front in Syria against Turkey. This situation represents an important opportunity for the Damascus regime, in which has become Russia’s and Iran’s proxy power in Syria. However, Damascus’s decision in this direction also poses a risk. . If the Damascus administration forms a close relationship with the Gulf monarchies and foremost is able to benefit from military aid and other financial support, it could reduce its dependence on Russia and Iran. It can increase its elbow space with the actors whom it has relations with and its importance in their eyes. On the other hand however, they may become a foreign policy instrument of the Arab countries and end up fighting for them. In the event of starting a conflict against the Turkish troops in Idlib and the National Syrian Army, further weakening will be inevitable. In addition, the Damascus regime, in which has gained the support of the Gulf countries may embark on moves that do not coincide with Russia’s interests by acting more courageous. As in the case of the Idlib crisis, if Russia is deprived from air support it is impossible for the regime forces to succeed in this field. Therefore, when taking into consideration the factors of the UAE- Saudi Arabia- Egypt trio’s relations with Russia, especially on the situation on Syria, if the Damascus regime is faced with war with Turkey its failure is inevitable. The actors in question, in which failed to achieve these means with the military support of Russia, cannot reach their aims in this direction without Russia.
This article was first published in 15.4.2020 at Anadolu Agency.