Turkey’s offer to Russia on joint anti-ISIS op: ‘Positives & Qs’

A Turkish Air Force F-16 fighter jet © Murad Sezer
Turkey’s call on Russia to join forces in fighting Islamic State may be a development, but many questions still remain as to what’s behind the move and what Ankara wants to achieve, Ammar Waqqaf, managing director of Gnosos, told RT.

Ankara’s proposal followed crucial talks between Russian President Vladimir Putin and Turkish President Recep Erdogan in St. Petersburg earlier this week.

Turkey is a member of the US-led coalition against Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS/ISIL) and a NATO member; Russia is not part of that coalition. RT asked Waqqaf about the significance of this latest initiative from Turkey to team up with Russia against ISIS.

There are positives to draw from this, and there are also questions that lie at the bottom of this Turkish proposal,” he said.

Speaking about the “positives,” the analyst recalled that last year when Ankara allowed the US to use its territory and airspace to bomb IS – effectively joining the coalition against the terrorist group – Turkey did not really actively engage in bombing the terrorist group.

“They always felt that they didn’t want to undermine ISIS. They have issues with the Kurdish organizations in Northern Syria, and they probably perceived ISIS as a pressing card against those. Instead, they used the coalition and the agreement with the US to bomb PKK in Northern Iraq and to start a huge operation in southeastern Turkey,” he said.

What we have on the table now is a proposal, if true, that Turkey would start targeting ISIS; and that is a development. Now they are thinking of ditching ISIS as a card and starting to build up some cooperation with Russia at the expense of ISIS,” Waqqaf said, although he added that there are now some questions to be asked.

Last month, Russia and the US agreed on “concrete steps” to ensure a long-term ceasefire in Syria and fight their common enemies, Al-Nusra and Islamic State.

“If we’re taking into consideration the US proposal that was brought into light three weeks before, when John Kerry visited Moscow and they had this huge discussion about ditching not only ISIS, but also Jabhat al-Nusra and starting to have these joint operations with Russia. At the time, Al-Nusra was still Al-Qaeda affiliated. A couple of weeks later Al-Nusra announced that they were ditching this link and disengaging from Al-Qaeda,” the analyst said.  “And suddenly we have Turkey not mentioning at all Al-Nusra, or Jabhat Fateh al-Sham as the new name suggests, but only focusing on ISIS.”

Waqqaf believes this could suggest that “Turkey’s main interest is to sway Russia from bombing Al-Nusra… and totally focusing on ISIS.

In a sense Turkey would like to preserve all the fighting groups that probably are connected to it either directly or indirectly in Idlib, in Aleppo, and take the Russian war effort mainly against ISIS,” he said. 

There is a possibility that Turkey could now act as a kind of broker between Russia and the US to finally form a broader “umbrella coalition” against IS, the analyst says.

However, he went on to say that it could also be that Turkey “is frustrated from US involvement, for example, in northeastern Syria, with the Kurds”.

They are making progress against ISIS, and that it sees or perceives to be against its strategic interests. So it could be that the rapprochement with Russia by Turkey could be seen as you left us with no option. But in a sense, what they are trying to do – is to get more from the US by playing the Russian card,” he explained.

Another probability is that, following the failed coup and “the lukewarm support” Ankara received from the West in general, and the US specifically, in its wake, Turkey might be saying: “Look, if you don’t do what we would like to have, or if you don’t consider us a full time member of NATO and equally important, then we could probably go to Russia,” Waqqaf said.

So they could be playing the Russians against the Americans in order to get some concessions from them as well,” he concluded.

The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.