Donald Trump publicly capitulated to Russia yesterday on live television. Yesterday, Trump declared that the cease fire in the Turkish incursion of Syria is now “permanent”. Trump also announced that the United States has lifted sanctions against Turkey. As they say, fiction is stranger than reality. This latest debacle poignantly illustrates this. Let’s see why.
Let’s start with the most obvious – NATO. NATO was created to stymie the Soviet Union’s expansion ambitions across the globe. Russia is the reincarnation of the defunct Soviet Union. Turkey is a member of NATO and it just made a deal with Russia that not only allows Russian troops to hold land along the Turkish-Syrian border but also allows Russia to influence a global strategic region.
But it gets worse, Russian troops are now jointly patrolling alongside Turkish troops, i.e. NATO troops. The deal reached by Turkey and Russia, hours before Donald Trump spun the deal into a win for his administration allows Russian troops to cross from Turkey into Syria and patrol the border jointly with the Turkish forces.
Turkey and Russia have a long history of animosity. Up until the early 1950’s, it was Russia’s stated purpose to annex parts of Turkey. Because Turkey joined NATO and the Soviet Union wanting to lessen animosity with the United States, it soon publicly gave up on its annexation ambitions.
However, in 2015, Russian and Turkish bilateral relations almost collapsed after Turkish fighters shot down a Russian fighter in Syria. The Russians imposed sanctions on Turkey as a result, eventually lifting them.
But Russian power projection ambitions via the Black Sea have remained part of the background geopolitics of the countries’ political relations. Alongside these geopolitical dramas has been Turkey’s deteriorating relationship with the United States that started before Donald Trump took office.
Although the Turkey-Russian relations include opposing interests, the relationship has benefited from Turkey’s loss of interest with the U.S. Among Turkey’s loss of interest in its relationship with the United States are the Kurds. The Kurds are considered by Turkey as terrorists while the United States relied heavily on them for removing ISIS from its strongholds.
When Donald Trump abandoned the Kurds, he not only abandoned them but also gave Vladimir Putin the geopolitical opening he needed to further weaken NATO and place Russia in the position to have greater control over Middle East politics. Although it may seem that Putin has turned his back on Syria’s leader, he has ensured that Bashar al-Assad remains firmly in control of Syria.
The biggest winner is for Turkey.
Under the Russian agreement – which Trump takes credit for – not only does Turkey get to keep the land it took from Syria during the latest invasion, but the invasion has been given credibility. But more importantly for Turkey, Turkey not only gets to push the Kurds away from its borders, but also gets to create a “safe zone” that the Kurds cannot use to mount operations into Turkey.
Additionally, Russian troops will help to ensure the integrity of the “safe zones”.
Now that Donald Trump has ordered sanctions against Turkey lifted it clearly makes Turkey the largest winner in this debacle. The sanctions were originally levied against Turkey for invading Syria.
Not only does Turkey get to keep the Syrian land it grabbed, push the Kurds further from Turkey and create a buffer patrolled by Russian troops, it also gets the punitive sanctions lifted.
Russia won by its increased influence in the region and the further weakening of the NATO alliance.
The real losers are the Kurds and the United States.
The Kurds for the obvious reason that they were betrayed. The United States in betraying the Kurds not only has created another enemy, but the country has also lost world standing in that future alliances will be more difficult when the reliability of US in partnerships is questioned.
The worst part of the latest debacle is Donald Trump trying to spin a “win” out of a complete failure of United States foreign policy.
But for Putin, he clearly got what he wanted simply because Trump capitulated to him in public.