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What’s behind Ankara’s ‘silence’ on Aleppo?

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Ankara has changed its rhetoric on Aleppo and refused to support the US and the ‘opposition allies’ in the city.

What's behind Ankara’s ‘silence’ on Aleppo?

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan (Photo: newsderwoche.de)

In the past, an opportunity to criticize Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has never been missed by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who called the Syrian leader “a brutal dictator, who kills his own people.” However, today, the Turkish President has significantly reduced its criticism of al-Assad, while most of the international community strongly condemns the operation of the Syrian Army in Aleppo. It is not difficult to understand the true reason for the change of Ankara’s position regarding the Syrian government – Moscow is also involved in operation in the Syrian city of Aleppo and Turkey does not want to spoil relations with Russia.

In latter days, Erdogan practically does not touch on the situation in Aleppo and instead of this prefers to talk at length about the Turkish military’s operation in northern Syria. Evidently, the Turkish leader just does not want to endanger Ankara’s recent reconciliation with Moscow.

The sharp deterioration in relations between the two countries, followed the incident with a Russian fighter jet, downed by Turkey in November 2015, resulted in heavy losses for Ankara in trade and tourism revenues and contracts. In addition, Turkish jets could not fly into Syrian airspace because of risk of a retaliatory strike from Russia, and Moscow began to openly support the Democratic Union Party (PYD) and the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG).

Not being able to continue to bear such sacrifices, in June, Erdogan was forced to apologize to Putin over the incident with the warplane. In addition, pro-government circles have even started to claim that the pilot, who downed the Russian jet, belonged to the Gulenist movement, which is accused of masterminding July’s failed coup attempt. The pilot allegedly acted on instructions, aimed at destabilizing of the Turkish-Russian relations.

Currently, Moscow and Ankara are engaged in a high-level military dialogue, as well as Turkey is trying to break the ice in order to start a “new era in economic ties” with Russia. The renewed contacts allow the country not only to recoup some of its economic losses, but also to regain the military advantages.

As a journalist and political commentator for the Hurriyet newspaper, Fikret Bila, told the Al-Monitor information website, “the reconciliation allowed Turkish forces to enter Syria and to operate in the region from Jarablus to Azaz in the west, and south toward al-Bab, without any objections from Moscow; Turkey in return agreed not to help rebel forces in Aleppo.”

The expert also noted that Turkey’s priorities in Syria have changed. The most important thing for Ankara now is “to secure the region along its borders, and move south toward al-Bab.” For this reason, the Turkish government and media are relatively silent on Assad and events in Aleppo.

Retired Major General Armagan Kuloglu also pointed out that the incident with the Russian fighter jet harmed Turkey’s security interests and allowed the PYD “to gain ground in Syria, after Turkish forces were prevented by Russia from intervening in the region.”

“We say that we support Syria’s territorial integrity in order to prevent threats to our security, but who will secure this? Of course, the Syrian regime. We should not have been so opposed to this regime,” Kuloglu told Al-Monitor.

He also noted that cooperating with Damascus would allow Ankara to get rid of both the Islamic State (IS) terrorist group and the PYD.

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