Turkey embraces Russia, condemns US envoy and US peace plan

Turkey’s President Erdogan speaks to Trump after slamming the US, while its foreign minister seeks to work with Russia in meetings about Syria crises.

James Jeffrey, U.S. State Department special representative for Syria Engagement; testifies before a House Foreign Affairs Committee hearing on President Trump's decision to remove U.S. forces from Syria, on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., October 23, 2019. (photo credit: REUTERS/YURI GRIPAS)
James Jeffrey, U.S. State Department special representative for Syria Engagement; testifies before a House Foreign Affairs Committee hearing on President Trump's decision to remove U.S. forces from Syria, on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., October 23, 2019.
(photo credit: REUTERS/YURI GRIPAS)
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has said US envoy to Turkey, James Jeffrey, was not convincing, despite Jeffrey describing Turkish soldiers as martyrs and saying the US supports Turkey.
Ankara appeared to mock the US envoy and call into question his credibility on Saturday even though Jeffrey gave an interview in Turkish to Turkish media and embraced Ankara last week. Turkey also slammed the US peace plan minutes before Turkey’s president spoke to US President Donald Trump. Meanwhile Turkey’s Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu met with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and says tensions in Idlib will not harm relations with Moscow.
Turkey has been seeking to build an alliance with Moscow  in recent years, buying its S-400 air defense system, and seeking to grow trade with the Russians. Turkey and Russia also built a pipeline called TurkStream.
A Russian-backed Syrian regime offensive in Idlib has led to half a million Syrians fleeing and Turkey ostensibly supports the Syrian opposition. Thirteen Turkish soldiers have been killed by Syrian regime shelling in Idlib and Turkey has sent hundreds  of  armored vehicles and thousands of soldiers into Idlib in the last week.
However Turkey’s real power play is merely to get a better deal with Russia.
The US administration has been seeking for a way to work with Turkey, abandoning Kurdish allies in eastern Syria and sending envoys to Ankara to beg Turkey to come back to Washington as an ally. Turkey has accused the US of training terrorists in Syria in the last years. Russia accuses Turkey of arming terrorists in Idlib, including scurrilous media reports alleging Turkey gave man-portable surface to air missiles to Syrian groups linked to extremists such as Hayat Tahrir al-Sham. Turkey is angling for more meetings with Russia this week on Monday in Moscow.
Turkey has a large delegation at the Munich Security Conference this week. It is pushing for better relations with some European countries. On January 30 Cavusoglu tweeted that “Europe’s spoiled and racist children should know their place.” Since then Turkey has gone on a charm offensive in eastern Europe with talks with Montenegro, Bulgaria, Slovenia, Slovakia and Albania. Turkey has also slammed the US peace deal for Israel and the Palestinians, hosting both Hamas and Palestinian foreign minister Riyad Maliki. Turkey has sought to work more closely with Iran as well. It also wants Germany’s support for its decision to send Syrian rebels and soldiers to fight in Libya.
The US sent James Jeffrey, a senior diplomat who is Washington’s point man on Syria and the anti-ISIS campaign to Turkey last week to encourage Turkey to take a tough stand against Syria’s regime in Idlib. Reports suggest the US urged Turkey to go “all in” and that it would get US and NATO backing. The US almost begged Turkey to leave behind Moscow and come back to work with the US. Turkey understands the power dynamic.
Washington needs Ankara more than Ankara needs the US. Some in the US administration think Turkey can be encouraged to be tough on Iran, even though Turkey wants to increase trade with Iran and work with Iran on peace talks for Syria. The US envoys said they would support Turkey’s role in Libya if Turkey could oblige on other issues. Jeffrey told Turkish media the US and Turkey have common strategic goals.
Turkey’s leaders are not impressed with Jeffrey. Erdogan demanded and got a phone call with Trump. After past phone calls the US has reversed its Syria policy to please Turkey in December 2018 and October 2019. This time they discussed Syria and a trade deal. Erdogan said prior to the conversation that Jeffrey’s comments in Turkey were not convincing.
As Turkey maneuvers between Moscow and Washington it hopes Washington will up the bid for Turkey’s role. Either way Ankara’s goal is to get a deal with Russia in Idlib.
In September 2018 the two countries signed a ceasefire deal that was supposed to stop fighting between rival Syrian groups the countries work with. The real issue is that Turkey wants the S-400s and they are supposed to be operational by April. Russia and Turkey understand power politics which is why Lavrov and Cavusoglu speak cordially and politely. Turkey bashes European countries as racist and spoiled because it knows Europe will beg Turkey to not let any more refugees go to Europe. Russia-Turkey talks are going positively, according to Turkish pro-government media. 
As Turkey works with Russia it also bashes the US peace plan, claiming it endangers the region, according to Erdogan. “We expect all Islamic countries to take a clear stance against US peace plan…neither the West nor Europe or Africa accept the so-called peace plan,” Erdogan said Saturday. Turkey slammed the US and humiliated the US envoy at the same time as Erdogan spoke to Trump it appears.
The back-and-forth developments illustrate the Turkish leadership’s preference for Russia stems from a belief that Russia is actually a player in Syria and will remain in Libya. It needs Russia to get the Syrian regime to end the siege of observation posts. It needs Russia to let it use Syrian air space. That is why Turkey’s foreign minister says that the crises in Idlib won’t undermine the relationship with Moscow. It is why Lavrov also said on Saturday that even though Turkey and Russia don’t agree on everything, they can work to stabilize Syria.
Turkey, Iran and Russia all agree that none of them can work with the US to stabilize Syria and they worked to exclude the US from negotiations in Astana and Sochi. They also think the US policy is inconsistent whereas they understand each other better. Turkey’s goal in Syria is not to support the Syrian opposition forever, but to manage the defeat of the opposition so that there aren’t another million refugees. Turkey also wants the Kurdish groups linked to the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) defeated.


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