Syria has long been regarded by some as the sacrificial lamb over whose spilled blood the New Cold War began, and once again its interests are being sacrificed for the sake of realpolitik ends by the two primary Great Powers involved in this proxy conflict. Russia and the US vetoed the EU’s anti-Turkish statement at the UN in a sign that neither of them want to formally condemn the geo-pivotal state in Asia Minor because doing so would result in forever losing Ankara to their adversary.
It’s true that Trump sprung a trap on Turkey by provoking it to take the bait of conventionally invading Syria for a third time as part of a larger plot designed to rally international support for imposing multilateral pressure against it due to what’s probably really the US’ anger at the country’s recent S-400 purchase and overall strategic redirection towards Eurasia, but that also doesn’t mean that Trump has written Erdogan off as “irredeemable”.
Syria provides important military experience for Russia and also serves a crucial geopolitical position from which to exert its regional “balancing” policy
Rather, it can be argued that the Machiavellian moves of simultaneously playing “good cop, bad cop” are designed to wield a Damocles’ sword above the Turkish leadership‘s head in order to compel it into reconsidering its recent foreign policy decisions as of late. This is evidenced by Trump proposing that he mediate between Turkey and the Kurds, which could result in a “new normal” between those two historic foes that ultimately stabilizes relations between them to America’s divide-and-rule benefit.
There is no guarantee that it’ll succeed, but it’s a promising enough prospect to be taken seriously considering that the US still has roughly 1,000 troops in Northeastern Syria and commands more influence among the Kurds than any other external actor. It’s no doubt a risky approach to managing regional affairs, but it perfectly conforms with Trump’s personality of regularly taking high-stake gambles that hold the chance of reaping maximum returns.
As for Russia, it simply can’t risk reversing the unprecedented progress that it’s made in its strategic partnership with Turkey ever since the failed pro-American coup attempt against Erdogan in 2016 because its southern neighbor is much too large of a marketplace for the struggling Eurasian Great Power’s economy to lose during this crucial moment in the midst of its ongoing systemic economic transition through the “Great Society“, “National Development Projects“.
Syria provides important military experience for Russia and also serves a crucial geopolitical position from which to exert its regional “balancing” policy, but the Arab Republic is already pretty much under Moscow’s complete sway as it is (with the notable exception of its refusal to request the dignified but “phased withdrawal” of Iranian forces and to agree to most of the proposals outlined in the Russian-written “draft constitution“), so Russia doesn’t have any similar fear of “losing” it like it does Turkey.
Why Russia refused to condemn Turkey at the UN because Moscow is simply pursuing its own interests as it perceives them, just like the US is doing.
Therefore, while the American veto at the UN could have been expected given Washington’s divide-and-rule track record, the Russian one took many observers off guard who hadn’t thought that Syria’s patron state would refrain from an opportunity to criticize what Damascus officially regards as the illegal invasion of its internationally recognized territory.
The fact of the matter is that Lavrov earlier approved the “security zone” as “absolutely legal” and Russia’s UN Representative Nebenzya said that his country would only veto a resolution that condemns the presence of all foreign forces in Syria, the latter of which is really a “face-saving” excuse for deflecting attention from its prioritization of bilateral relations with Turkey over those with Syria. After all, it’s impossible to expect that the US would publicly condemn its own presence in Syria at the UN, so Nebenzya’s words ring hollow when one really takes the time to reflect upon them.
Having said all of that, it’s understandable – even if ethically questionable – why Russia refused to condemn Turkey at the UN because Moscow is simply pursuing its own interests as it perceives them, just like the US is doing. That realization, however, is usually lost on most of its supporters who imagine that the country is on an historic quest to bring justice to the world and right all the wrongs of the planet’s unipolar past, which simply isn’t true and is obviously debunked by a simple glance at Russian-“Israeli” relations in the Syrian context, which were elaborated on at length by the author in his piece last month about “Russia’s Middle East Strategy: ‘Balance’ vs. ‘Betrayal’“.
So long as President Putin’s foreign policy is interpreted by his supporters from that false Alt-Media-influenced premise, then such moves as refusing to condemn Turkey for its third conventional invasion of Syria will come off as surprising when in reality they should have been expected all along.
Andrew Korybko is a political analyst who specializes in Russian affairs and geopolitics, specifically the US strategy in Eurasia. His other areas of focus include tactics of regime change,