Russia & Turkey in Syria and their Broader Shared Geopolitical Space

Center for Global Policy Senior Fellow Kamran Bokhari talks with Ariel Cohen, a Nonresident Senior Fellow with the Atlantic Council, about Russia’s intervention in Syria and its broader regional and international implications. Cohen is also a Senior Fellow at the Institute for Analysis of Global Security and the director of the Center for Energy, Natural Resources, and Geopolitics. 

First, Cohen explains that Turkey is working to distance itself from the liberal West, including the United States — a project that has been going on for at least 15 years. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan wants Turkey to be the leader of the Sunni world and in fact believes that Turkey is a self-contained center of power capable of creating a sphere of influence that would rival the Ottoman Empire. However, Turkey is experiencing myriad problems with its neighbors, including Armenia, Iran, the Kurds in Iraq and Syria, the Syrian regime, Israel and Egypt, and Ankara is at odds with both the United States and Russia.

Then, Cohen outlines the Russian strategy in the Middle East, which rests on the same military and security interests the Soviets had. Russia is seeking out secular regimes and areas where there are power vacuums to form partnerships and build influence. For instance, in Iraqi Kurdistan the Russians have a traditional ally — the Kurds — plus an interest in the region’s oil and gas resources. In Syria, the Russians supported the elder Assad and the Baath Party and now they support Bashar al Assad’s regime as a traditional ally. The Russians, upset that the United States supported forces that toppled regimes friendly to Moscow (such as Saddam Hussein), see Syria as the last position where Russia can resist what it considers the American-inspired Arab Spring.

As Russia projects its power into Syria and as Turkey and the Syrian regime both push against the Kurds, the United States is trying to make a show of force. U.S. forces do not want to leave Syria as a playground for Iran, but its presence could be overshadowed by larger forces on the ground. Meanwhile, Washington’s Arab allies have yet to form their much-discussed coalition and truly join the fray.

The views expressed herein are the guest’s and do not necessarily reflect those of CGP.