Turkey In Syria, The FSA, And The Upcoming Quarrel Over Syria’s Constitution
Much ado has been made over the past few days about the ulterior motives behind Turkey’s conventional military campaign in northern Syria, with most people refusing to believe that Erdogan ‘altruistically’ ordered the operation just to ‘take one for the team’ and help his multipolar allies clear out the Kurdish “federalists”. Turkey does indeed have a self-interested national security reason in doing so, but knowing the wily Sultan, he’s bound to have a trick or two up his sleeve, and it’s very likely that he’s aiming for grander goals than just preventing the emergence of a PKK safe haven all along his southern borderland (which is in and of itself an ambitious objective). The fact of the matter is that Turkey’s true long-term intention for its conventional military involvement in Syria isn’t to take the country’s territory like many alarmists seem to think is the plan, but to change its constitution, which in many ways could be just as bad or even worse for the country.
Syria, Russia, and Iran are definitely aware of this, and they might have even held out the possibility – but certainly not the promise – of Turkey influencing the forthcoming rewritten Syrian Constitution in order to convince Erdogan to step into northern Syria to take out the Kurds and replace the pro-Saudi Daesh and pro-American SDF with Ankara’s FSA, all the while risking that he’ll be drawn into a quagmire as he takes out his new partners’ mutual enemies. Despite the risks inherent in this gamble and all that could possibly go wrong with this plot, the Resistance Bloc appears to have agreed that the potential benefits far outweigh the dangers, and that it’s preferable for Turkey to act as their ‘cat’s paw’ against Washington and Riyadh’s proxies because Moscow and Tehran – for whatever their reasons may be – lack the political will to commit to an all-out sustained military operation to do this themselves.
The danger is that an FSA-occupied northern Syria would put Turkey in a far better position to indirectly contribute to the UNSC-mandated revision of the Syrian Constitution than a hodgepodge coalition of internationally recognized “moderate” rebel groups backed by itself, the US, and Saudi Arabia, but the flipside opportunity in all of this is that it could remove both of those latter states from the military-diplomatic equation and that there’s no guaranteed certainty that Ankara will even get what it’s politically seeking.
All that’s on the table is the chance to do so, during which time the diplomatic masters in Damascus, Moscow, and Tehran could see to it that Ankara’s sway is neutralized and that no tangible harm is done. Turkey isn’t being played as a “useful idiot” since it and all of its partners benefit from the expulsion of pro-Saudi Daesh and the pro-US YPG from northern Syria and possibly even from the rest of the country, it’s just that Erdogan wouldn’t ultimately succeed in his last-ditch effort to unseat President Assad in the last way that he knows how.
Order Of Research
The research begins by examining the relationship between the Resistance Bloc of Syria, Russia, and Iran and their relationship with the FSA, followed by an explanation of the reasons behind their selective outreach to the group. Afterwards, the study discusses the basis on which these three countries have suddenly begun to reevaluate their relationship with the Kurds and why they’re accepting of Turkey’s military campaign against them in northern Syria. In connection with this, the work then elaborates on why neither Damascus, Moscow, nor Tehran has taken any tangible moves to resist Ankara’s replacement of Daesh and the YPG with the FSA, inferring that there must be some larger reason behind why all of them are letting this happen.
The posited answer to this is then expanded on when discussing the “rebel” rumble that the Resistance Bloc wants to provoke among the anti-government fighters and the particular role that they envision the FSA playing in all of this. Finally, the last part of the article looks at the constitutional quarrel that could predictably crop up between the Resistance Bloc and Turkey as each side diplomatically maneuvers to rewrite the Syrian Constitution in the post-Daesh political environment and before the UNSC-mandated June 2017 deadline, with the tail end of the study looking at several dark scenarios that could transpire and which could lead to Turkey backstabbing its newest set of partners.
Disclaimer/Qualifying Statement/Critical Caveat
It goes without saying that the research study is very controversial, but it mustn’t be forgotten that the author is not ‘apologizing’ for any side’s past actions, ‘justifying’ whatever they are currently doing, nor ‘cheering’ for any policy proposal. Rather, this is nothing more than a cold, hard analysis emotionally distanced from the issues at hand and evaluating them from as objective of a standpoint as possible. The goal is to reveal the reality of what’s truly going on as opposed to what wishful thinkers might delude themselves into thinking is happening or should happen, no matter how ‘politically incorrect’ this may come off as to ‘mainstream’ multipolar readers. This task is made all the more difficult by the heavy fog of war that’s set over northern Syria these past few days, but the author’s intention is to sweep as much of it away as possible in showing the reader what lies beneath and helping them gain an accurate perspective on what’s to come over the horizon.
The Resistance Bloc’s Relationship With The FSA
It’s important to take note of the fact that Turkey has a very minor official military presence in northern Syria at the moment, with the bulk of the units on the ground being the “Free Syrian Army” (FSA, which the author personally likens to mean the “Fake Syrian Army”). This is an eclectic group of “moderate” rebels that are in fact mostly terrorists by a different name, having been responsible for numerous atrocities in Syria throughout the course of the half-decade-long conflict there. Whether one supports it or not, the political fact is that the FSA is internationally recognized by Russia, Iran, China, and even Syria itself as being part of the “moderate opposition” engaged in the Geneva talks. The Syrian Reconciliation Minister, who is also the leader of the country’s Syrian Social Nationalist Party (SSNP), offers amnesty for all FSA and other terrorist/”moderate rebel” groups if they’re willing to lay down their arms and join the Syrian Arab Army (SAA), while Russia has gone as far as openly declaring that it does not regard this organization as terrorists and even backing them up with airstrikes in the past when they went on the offensive against Daesh.
None of this should be taken to imply that Damascus and Moscow are ‘going soft’ on terrorism or have ‘sold out’, but that in the practical world of geopolitics, normative compromises must be made in the pursuit of long-term pragmatic ends. This is the reality in which the world operates – it’s not the wishful fantasy that many well-meaning Facebookers try to convince themselves exists, but rather the naked truth of what actually happens. The FSA’s crimes are well-known and meticulously documented, but that doesn’t mean that Russia and Syria should forever be precluded from accepting their existence and even sometimes cooperating with them if this somehow works to advance a larger objective.
Again, irrespective if one supports it or not, it’s plain to see that this is what Moscow, Damascus, and one can even say Tehran, too, are doing in order to bring an end to the War on Syria. Those that publicly proclaim their support for the Resistance Bloc should understand and accept this.
The Reason For The Outreach Strategy
The reason behind their decision in this regard is that neither Russia nor Iran has the political will to launch an all-out conventional war against the FSA, and Syria – fighting a liberation war on all fronts, needing to secure recently freed territory, having to safeguard critical supply lines, and steadily replenishing battlefield losses with newly trained personnel – is in no position to do this by itself without sustained assistance from its allies. Since this is not forthcoming for a variety of reasons, they must settle for the next most pragmatic option available, which is selectively using the FSA whenever it meets Damascus, Moscow, and Tehran’s collective interests. That means accepting the group’s existence and passively enabling it – if not outright actively helping it – to fight against Daesh, al-Nusra, and other “consensually agreed-upon” terrorist groups recognized by the UN and the Geneva talks participants. This is an explanation, not an excuse or endorsement, of what’s happening, and it’s crucial for readers to understand what is being conveyed here. The author isn’t arguing in defense of these actions, but is impartially expressing the reality as it is today and explaining why this came to be.
Having acquired a factual understanding of the complicated relationship that the Resistance Bloc has with the FSA and the reasons behind this controversial arrangement, it’s easier for one to understand why Syria, Russia, and Iran aren’t overreacting to the installment of Turkey’s FSA proxies as a replacement for Daesh and the YPG in northern Syria. One should remember that these two latter groups are seen as a much bigger threat to Syria and its territorial integrity than the FSA, since both want to change its borders in one way or another (Daesh wants an international caliphate, while the YPG wants a “federalized” [internally partitioned] Syria) and neither are participants in Geneva. This contrasts with the FSA, which has pledged to support the country’s present borders and is actively involved in Geneva.
Reconsidering Relations With The Kurds
The controversy of course comes down to why the YPG and its political PYD counterparts aren’t represented in Geneva, and this is of course due to the Turks’ unmovable resistance to the Kurds’ demand. Even the Russian-Turkish rapprochement and its complementary Iranian-Turkish one haven’t led to any progress on this issue, showing that Moscow and Tehran predictably care more about their future multipolar relations with the Great Power of Turkey than continuing to desperately compete with the US in wooing the Syrian Kurds, a courtship which has totally failed. The only workable set of relations that Moscow has with this pro-American proxy force is in supporting it with airstrikes during its anti-Daesh offensives and mediating between it and the SAA during the recent Kurdish-provoked clashes in Hasakah, whereas Iran doesn’t really have any to speak of in the first place and is actually fighting against a Kurdish terrorist invasion from northern Iraq at this very moment. Damascus naturally cares for all of its citizens, which unquestionably includes the Kurds, and it doesn’t want to come to blows with any of them, though it will adamantly do whatever is necessary to protect its territorial integrity and resist the YPG-led “federalist” (internal partition) plot, including the use of military force if necessary.
For as long as the Kurds were fighting only against Daesh and other terrorists, then neither Syria, Russia, nor Iran had any problem with them and of course provided them with whatever amount of support they realistically could, but once the PYD unilaterally declared a “federal” (internally partitioned) state in full contravention of the Syrian Constitution, all three actors immediately came to see the group for what it really was this entire time, which is a pernicious separatist agent of American-“Israeli”-Saudi influence (collectively referred to as Cerberus). The Kurdish attack on the SAA in Hasakah confirmed that the group was willing to act on its hostile intentions against the Syrian state, thereby vindicating the forthcoming multipolar coordinated mission that Turkey was about to embark on shortly thereafter in preventing this aggressive entity from unifying with its cross-Euphrates counterparts and creating a unipolar belt of disruption between Syria and Turkey. For these reasons, Syria, Russia, and Iran came to regard the PYD/YPG as totally dispensable to their collective strategic interests, which is why they passively accepted the onset of Ankara’s recent campaign against them, which they themselves more than likely helped to coordinate.
Accepting Turkey’s Military Operation
Apart from Damascus’ predictable proclamation about the violation of its sovereignty and Moscow’s stereotypical statement about expressing “deep concern” (the author couldn’t find any official statement from Tehran on the matter as of 20:00 MSK on 25 August, though that doesn’t mean one doesn’t exist), none of the three has done anything concrete to resist the Turkish military forces, with Syria refraining from asking its Russian and Iranian allies for help in repelling Erdogan’s Army and its FSA proxies. It also didn’t help any that reports immediately started circulating that the Saudis were offering financial assistance to the Kurds in exchange for the continuance of their fight against the SAA, which comes on the heels of Iran’s accusation just last month that the Saudi consulate in Erbil was providing support to the Kurdish terrorists fighting against Tehran. If it wasn’t in the collective interests of Syria, Russia, and Iran to see the Turks wipe the YPG out from the northern border belt that they’ve been fiendishly building with American-“Israeli”-Saudi support over the past couple of years, then they all would have united in vocally condemning Ankara for what would then have amounted to a pro-US invasion of Syria and began preparing emergency contingency plans for militarily evicting the occupiers.
The same equipment that deterred a Turkish invasion for the past nine months since the downing of Russia’s anti-terrorist jet over Syria is still inside of the Arab Republic, proving that Moscow could very easily have put an immediate halt to Turkey’s territorial transgressions had they not been coordinated with Syria, Russia, and Iran in advance (no matter what each partner publicly says in order to ‘save-face’ among their domestic constituents). Iran could have announced that it was cancelling Erdogan’s planned trip to Tehran if it was really serious about voicing dissatisfaction with Turkey’s moves, just as President Putin could have said that he’d be delaying his upcoming visit to Antalya. Neither of Syria’s external protectors issued any statements whatsoever that could be interpreted as red lines and ultimatums, which further confirms that they don’t see Turkey’s latest moves as a threat, but instead as a prearranged opportunity that decisively works to Syria’s ultimate advantage.
The expulsion of Daesh from the Turkish border essentially amounts to Ankara cutting off all of its former material support to the group, and the proactive preventative measures in ensuring that the YPG doesn’t unite with its cross-Euphrates counterparts greatly obstructed Cerberus’ plan to construct a Kurdish Belt across the entirety of northern Syria. In exchange for the promotion of this multilaterally beneficial objective, the Resistance Bloc of Syria, Russia, and Iran seem to have accepted that their new Turkish partner will fill the void with its own FSA proxies. The reader should remember at this point that this group is accepted by all three countries as a “legitimate” and “moderate” force that is officially being negotiated with at the UN level, despite its grievous history of violence and long-standing ties with the US.
Truth be told, however, Washington pretty much abandoned the FSA over the past year, with Turkey now picking up the role of patron over it and transforming the fighters into its own proxies, thereby mitigating the erstwhile supreme unipolar influence that the US was exerting over them. It’s not in any way to infer that the FSA could be trusted, but just that it might be able to be more efficiently managed and guided towards the promotion of pragmatic lesser-evil multipolar collective interests through the contours of the developing Russian-Turkish-Iranian Tripartite of Great Powers.
The Fundamental Importance Of The FSA
To be clear, the author is not endorsing the FSA’s occupation of Syrian land, but is explaining why Syria, Russia, and Iran are not taking any steps to stop this and in fact appear to be cynically encouraging it in order to more rapidly bring about a resolution to the War on Syria. To elaborate, Daesh and the PYD/YPG are not nor ever realistically will be party to the Geneva talks, while the FSA is. Evaluating the situation in Syria right now, it’s impossible for there to be a lasting solution to the country’s conflict unless all the parties exercising military control over every square inch of the country are included in the future settlement. The Resistance Bloc understands this, and while it would optimally be ideal for the SAA to liberate the entire state, this might not realistically happen (let alone anytime too soon) because of Russia and Iran’s’ lack of political will (for whatever the reasons may be, whether justified or inexcusable) to commence an all-out conventional war against every militarized anti-government force in the country. Cognizant of this constraint and acknowledging that the SAA is in no position to do this on its own without such support amidst the challenging conditions that it currently finds itself in, the next best solution is for the “moderate rebels” officially recognized by Syria, Russia, and Iran to gain control of the territory presently occupied by terrorists like Daesh and other non-Geneva-participating groups such as the PYD/YPG.
There’s a sliver of a chance that the PYD/YPG could be invited to join the Geneva talks, but the only way that the Resistance Bloc could even attempt to persuade Turkey to allow this is if the group explicitly renounces its former “federalization” (internal partition) plans and swears to support the territorial integrity of the Syrian state (both externally and internally).
Even then, it’s only a far-off possibility that Ankara would agree to this, but it might end up being more preferable to all sides than Turkey risking a quagmire in the northeast of Syria. Another possibility that could develop instead and which could allow the Kurds to have some sort of representation in Geneva is if the PYD/YPG was disbanded through Turkish and/or some form of joint assisted Syrian-Russian-Iranian operations and replaced with “moderate” Kurds that are loyal to Damascus. This might represent the best compromise solution for everyone, whereby Cerberus’ Kurdish Belt would be neutralized and the Kurds would still have some sort of representation in the formal post-conflict settlement, though of course no longer aggressively demanding any form of “federalized” (internally partitioned) state.
Irrespective of if the Kurds are ultimately involved in Geneva or not, the reality remains that the Resistance Bloc has accepted that the FSA – which is recognized by all of them as a “legitimate” “moderate” negotiating partner – is expanding its influence over northern Syria and filling the void left by Daesh and the YPG, all with Turkey’s open and conventional military support. It can consequently be interpreted that a decision was made among the members of the Resistance Bloc to allow this to happen – if not outright facilitate it – possibly because they see it as the most pragmatic way to jumpstart the post-conflict negotiations in Geneva. The reader should be made aware of UNSC Res. 2254 adopted in December 2015, which stipulates that both a new constitution must be written and another round of elections held within 18 months, translating to a deadline of June 2017. All sides are now working to get to this point as soon as possible, with the present diplomatic-military engagements being predicated on clearing the ground of all actors which aren’t ”consensually agreed upon” as being “moderate” and “legitimate” enough to the point of partaking in these processes.
Practically speaking, the replacement of illegitimate and radical “rebels” with their “consensually agreed-upon” counterparts will manifest itself in two interlinked ways. The first one deals with Daesh, and it’s envisioned that the terrorist group will be defeated, after which the Russian- and Iranian-supported SAA, Turkish-backed FSA, and the US-assisted “Syrian Democratic Forces” (SDF) will end up controlling the liberated territory. Herein lays the connection to the second side of the coin, which is that the SDF is majority-comprised of the YPG, for which the aforementioned scenarios about the group’s possible dismantlement or replacement with a “moderate” pro-Damascus counterpart are most pertinent. There’s even the possibility of the Arab-minority in the SDF ‘defecting’ to the FSA, which in that case would strip the YPG of its ‘inclusive legitimacy’ and expose it as the ethnic supremacist militia that it really is.
In terms of what’s most preferable for the Resistance Bloc, other than the natural liberation of the entire country by the SAA (which is increasingly difficult to achieve without the appropriate Russian and Iranian political will to conventionally help as much as is militarily needed), it would be best to see the YPG’s dismemberment, replacement with a pro-multipolar “moderate” Kurdish counterpart, and the ‘defection’ of Arab fighters from the US-aligned SDF to the Turkish-backed FSA. The main objective, it seems (not that it ideally should be, but as it appears to have been decided by the Resistance Bloc at this moment in time), is for the Turkish proxy to push out the Saudi (Daesh) and American (YPG, SDF) ones so that it’s much easier to come to a post-conflict diplomatic resolution by squeezing these other two parties out of the arrangement. At this time it’s worthy to recall that the Syrian, Russian, and Iranian leaderships have repeatedly emphasized that a political solution – not a military one – is what’s needed to end the war, inferring a consensual acceptance that the SAA probably will not succeed in liberating all of Syria before then.
Again, it can’t be repeated enough that this is not what the author himself personally wants, but only the way that the situation appears to be at this point after taking into consideration past and present events. The best thing that could happen is for all armed anti-government groups, whether terrorists or “moderates”, to be neutralized through their death, disarmament, or expulsion, but because Russia and Iran are not willing to conventionally contribute their militaries to the level that’s needed to make this happen – be it for the correct reasons or the ‘wrong’ ones – then supportive observers should soberly analyze what other scenarios could work out to their benefit.
If the abovementioned understanding is an accurate depiction of reality, then it would mean that the Multipolar Great Powers of Russia and Iran have received permission from Syria to engage Turkey within the Tripartite format in order to have it assist in the elimination of all “non-consensually agreed-upon” “moderate” and “legitimate” “rebel” groups and their replacement with the FSA, which could then serve as a powerful counterweight to the pro-US SDF and an attractive lure to any of its potential Arab ‘defectors’.
Depending upon the degree with which Turkey is comfortable pivoting to the Multipolar Community at this crucial time and the reaction that the US has to this, it might even be foreseeable that the FSA and SDF could clash within Syria as Ankara battles to drive out Washington’s proxies as part of the deal that it made with its newfound Russian, Iranian, and even Syrian partners. It shouldn’t be inferred that this will definitely happen, and there’s also a lot that could potentially go wrong if Erdogan gets too greedy and/or the US wins him back over in this middle of this multipolar gambit, but the dark scenarios pertaining to this military campaign will be explored soon enough. For now, though, the research will take a turn in the direction of discussing the strategic impact that an emboldened and expanded pro-Turkish FSA would have on the post-conflict resolution in Syria and the diplomatic maneuverings around its planned rewritten constitution.
The UNSC-mandated rewriting of the Syrian Constitution is Erdogan’s ultimate aim, even though this strategically puts him at competitive odds with his recently reconciled partners, two of which, Russia and Iran, have publicly restored their relations with Turkey, while the last, Syria, has yet to do so and might never publicly will (but nor would Turkey want to on its part as well, both for domestic political reasons). All Great Powers have their disagreements and areas of rivalry, and this is no different when it comes to the Multipolar Community and the Tripartite between Russia, Iran, and Turkey. While working together to the betterment of their collective self-interests in resolving the War on Syria, these three members still cannot publicly agree on what comes next after Daesh is defeated. Moscow and Tehran place no demands on President Assad to step down, while Ankara is still obnoxious with its rhetoric, though it might by this point actually be only just that, words. It’s very likely that Erdogan has accepted that President Assad will continue democratically ruling over Syria for as long as his citizens allow him to and he’s interested in maintaining that position, but it doesn’t mean that the Sultan still doesn’t have hope that he can engineer his rival’s downfall through the forthcoming negotiations on Syria’s constitutional revision.
Like it was earlier written in the research, all of the military-diplomatic engagements that are presently ongoing in Syria and have been proceeding for the past year are based on removing all “non-consensually agreed-upon” negotiating parties from the ground and replacing them with internationally recognized forces – be they the SAA or “moderate rebels” – that could account for the situation across the entirety of the country’s territory and thus bring about a sustainable solution to the War on Syria. After completing this first gargantuan step, the second one is to work out the nature of Syria’s new constitution, and it’s here where, as the saying goes, “the devil’s in the details”. All parties presently active on the ground with the exception of the PYD/YPG and “consensually agreed-upon” terrorist groups such as Daesh (neither of which are party to the Geneva talks) support the inviolability of Syria’s borders and are against the country’s “federalization” (internal partition), but they dramatically differ over the future of President Assad and the Syrian Presidency in general.
Pro-government supporters naturally would like to perpetuate President Assad’s democratic mandate and protect the country’s powerful presidency, especially seeing as how it’ll be more important than ever for a strong leader to keep Syria together in the aftermath of the divisive conflict that was thrust upon it by its enemies over the past half of a decade. On the other hand, the militarized non-systemic opposition (not to be confused with the systemic opposition, both unarmed and armed, such as the SSNP and its Eagles of the Whirlwind militia) is expressly in favor of regime change, albeit having “moderated” its policy towards one of a “phased transition” and not an immediate overthrow, and supports a symbolic or greatly weakened presidency. It’ll be very challenging to rectify these two contradictory positions, and one side or the other will have to give in to concessions in drafting the final document. Ultimately, though, it will come down to the Syrian people themselves to decide whether or not to endorse the text that they’re presented with, since it’s very unlikely that a document of such paramount importance like deciding the future nature of the Syrian state for years to come would be promulgated without a referendum, one which would probably be held during the same time as the upcoming elections that are mandated anyhow.
Returning to the earlier observations about how it convincingly looks like the Resistance Bloc has struck an agreement with Turkey to have its FSA proxies push back against Saudi-backed Daesh and the US-supported SDF/YPG in exchange for replacing their presence on the ground, the resultant reality is that Ankara’s proxies will consequently have a chance to command varying degrees of influence over the process of revising the Syrian Constitution once all the armed non-Geneva-participating groups have been neutralized. Moreover, in his quest to give his allied forces the greatest amount of leverage possible during the upcoming constitutional discussions, Erdogan might get ‘greedy’ and think that the FSA would be in better position if the SDF was wiped out too, whether through direct clashes or by pressuring its Arab members to break with the YPG, ‘defect’ to the FSA, and then turn their guns on the Kurds. This might actually be most preferable to the Resistance Bloc because it would eliminate the US’ surrogates in northeastern Syria without creating post-conflict reconciliation problems between Damascus and the Kurdish community.
Decentralization Could Be Just As Dangerous As Devolution:
Whatever the details may be for how it’s finally achieved, the consolidation of all internationally recognized negotiating groups’ control over the entirety of the Syrian space will result in the conflict moving from the military to the political realm, during which time diplomacy will be the most important weapon that each side could wield in fighting to promote their agenda. Even in the event that the pro-Turkish FSA establishes control over all of northern Syria by replacing the vanquished YPG, SDF, and Daesh, there’s no assurance at all that Ankara would succeed in pushing through its constitutional plot to unseat President Assad. The area of the country that the FSA, YPG, SDF, and Daesh occupy is sparsely populated and wouldn’t be enough on its own to push through an anti-Assad constitution even if all of the citizens under their control decided to vote for it. Therefore, the pro-government supporters have nothing to fear in the sense that Turkey’s last-ditch regime change plan couldn’t ever succeed, but what they do have to watch out for is Ankara and its allies demanding decentralization clauses that give the provinces greater control over their economic responsibilities and resource allocation.
In practical terms, the motivation for pursuing such a proposal is that the Syrian northeast is the country’s hydrological, agricultural, and energy center, essentially its most important resource base in every sense of the word. Turkey – or if it can’t wrest all this territory from the YPG/SDF, then also the US – might find consolation in gaining indirect control over this territory in exchange for their de-facto recognition of President Assad’s continued rule, seeing as how the much more populous ‘western crescent’ of the country will solidly vote in favor of their leader and Syria’s patriotic interest in having a strong presidency.
Unless Russian and Iranian decision makers change their minds soon and garner the political will to commence a full-on conventional military assault in helping the SAA liberate this region, then they’ll all inevitably have to deal with the reality that even a victory in the Race for Raqqa would leave large swaths of the northeast under the control of rebel groups, thus necessitating either a political accommodation with them as post-Daesh negotiating partners in Geneva or the ordering of a law enforcement operation to forcibly disarm what would by then be nothing more than illegal militias.
Russia has a distinct interest in seeing to it that the energy resources of northeastern Syria don’t come under the de-facto administrative control of outside forces because of a deal that it recently sealed with Damascus. The Syrian authorities invited Russia to restore all of the country’s oil and gas infrastructure, which will obviously end up being a lucrative long-term business investment for Moscow that could further elevate its strategic profile in the region. Accordingly, this is too good of an offer for Russia to pass up or allow to slip out of its hands, which is why it can be inferred that it will diplomatically – but probably not militarily – try its hardest to prevent this part of the country’s resources from de-facto coming under the control of a foreign power by means of a forthcoming decentralization clause in the constitution. Resultantly, for as legitimately worried as patriotic Syrians and their supporters might be at the high-stakes gambit that’s taking place in northern Syria right now with Turkey, they should rest assured in knowing that Russia actually has a lot of self-interest in protecting its own ‘skin in the game’ that’s buried underneath the sand in the northeast.
Because of this, however, it might end up creating a problem with Turkey if Ankara’s FSA proxies don’t cede control over any structures that they end up occupying, though a compromise agreement could eventually be worked out whereby Syria and Russia agree that a certain percentage of the resources in that part of the country could be sold to Turkey at competitive rates. There’s no way to reach such a deal with the US and its proxies, however, since Washington doesn’t necessarily care where the oil and gas go to, so long as it and its surrogates have control over it and can resultantly disrupt the flow whenever it’s most geostrategically opportune to do so. This argument speaks in favor of why it would be better for the Turkish-aligned FSA to displace Daesh in the northeast than the pro-US YPG/SDF and what the far-reaching benefit would be in having Ankara greedily work to dissolve Washington’s proxy coalition there, with these eventualities of course being secondary to the optimally ideal hope that the SAA can liberate the entire country with the dedicated and sustained military assistance of its Russian and Iranian allies.
The introductory paragraphs of this study specifically drew attention to the fact that Turkey’s conventional military involvement in Syria is indeed a gambit by all sides, one which could end up being a win-win one if Turkey succeeds in removing (or assisting in the removal of) the US and Saudi Arabia’s proxies in Syria and holds off on (or is prevented from pursuing )any ulterior regime change agenda (i.e. through the constitutional revision), but which could also turn very bad for the Multipolar Community if Erdogan either gets to greedy and/or is won back over by the US in the midst of all of this. Setting aside one’s personal opinion about the wisdom of this initiative, the reality is that Syria, Russia, and Iran all agreed to it with the understanding being that the possible benefits far outweigh the dangers and that emergency split-second military contingency measures could be implemented to rein in Turkey if it suddenly gets out of control.
Nobody wants to see this happen, not least of which is Turkey itself because of its recently ‘cleansed’/’purged’ military, which is comparatively weaker than it was before the failed pro-US coup. Turkey wouldn’t have stood a chance against the full punitive onslaught of the Russian military in the past, and it certainly wouldn’t be able to hold up in the aftermath of Erdogan having removed thousands of his soldiers and nearly half of his generals. Despite this self-initiated action serving as an obvious deterrent to any second backstabbing conspiracy against Russia, Moscow and its allies would be irresponsible to not at least have planned for its possible occurrence. Comprehensively evaluating the strategic situation as has been done throughout this entire research and assessing the most likely dark scenarios for another round of Turkish treachery to happen (albeit this time not allegedly tied to Gulen like the plane downing supposedly was by the pre-‘cleansed’/’purged’ military which was purportedly under his influence), the greatest likelihood for this to happen is if Erdogan overreaches in his conventional military mission and strays out of the predetermined territory that the Resistance Bloc agreed in advance to allow him and the FSA to operate in.
For example, if it turns out that the Turkish forces inside of Syria are directly aiding and abetting the FSA in its military engagements against the SAA in Aleppo, then that would naturally be a cause for alarm in the Syrian, Russian, and Iranian capitals. Likewise, if Turkish forces dared to directly attack their Syrian counterparts, then that would understandably be an immediate act of war which should be met a proportionate response by the Resistance Bloc.
Another dangerous move that Turkey could make to undermine the trust of its partners and increase the chance for a war with each of them would be if it flooded FSA-occupied territory with an unreasonable number of conventional assets (soldiers, tanks, armored personnel vehicles, etc.) more suited for a long-lasting occupation than a short-term anti-terrorist operation.
It would be up to Syria to draw the red line and determine how much is too much, but once it decides that enough is enough and puts discretely puts pressure on Turkey to draw down its forces, then any refusal by Ankara to do so should be met with a harsh multilateral diplomatic response by the Resistance Bloc before the preparation of joint military action against the invasive forces. Lastly, it can’t be ignored that the US-supported SDF will try to cut some type of political-territorial deal with the pro-Turkish FSA, possibly in having the two team up in order to make a rapid move on Raqqa and then use this symbolic victory to push forward a decentralization agenda like the one previously mentioned.