Turkey Hesitant on Involving Russia in ISIS Fight, Hopes Putin Drops Assad

Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov recently met to discuss ways to fight against the Islamic State (ISIS/ISIL). Turkey has already joined a U.S.-led coalition after an ISIS attack, but Russia stated no desire to join the fight.

Before they met, Russian Colonel General Vladimir Shamanov, who controls the Russian airborne troops, insisted his troops would be ready to “execute the decisions set forth by the country’s leadership, if there is a task at hand.”

The Russian Foreign Ministry said the two men “exchanged views on the key issues of developing the bilateral relations, including in the context of preparation for the 6th meeting of the Russian-Turkish High-Level Cooperation Council.” However, no media outlet reported exactly what the men talked about.

But NATO-member Turkey turned down any plans Russia brought to the meeting.

“The international community already conducts a battle against Daesh [ISIL],” said Turkish Foreign Ministry spokesperson Tanju Bilgiç. “Turkey is part of an international coalition and provides concrete support to these efforts. Apart from that, we don’t have any other methods or plan in our agenda concerning the struggle against Daesh.”

Russian President Vladimir Putin sided with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad when the country broke out in a civil war four years ago. His support led to Russian members of ISIS to threaten him via propaganda videos. Yet, earlier this week, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan claimed Putin is dropping support for al-Assad.

“(Putin) is no longer of the opinion that Russia will support Assad to the end. I believe he can give up Assad,” he said.

A U.S. official and diplomat confirmed Erdoğan’s beliefs to NBC News:

“Russia is looking at other options,” said the U.S. official who is involved in formulating American foreign policy in the Middle East.

“The Russians don’t see [Assad] as the only option anymore. They’re showing more flexibility,” added the Moscow-based diplomat from a U.S.-allied country who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he is not authorized to speak to the media.

On the same day, though, Lavrov met with Secretary of State John Kerry and blasted the coalition in Syria. CCTV reported:

“Moscow has so far criticized US plans to provide air cover for Syrian opposition jointly with Turkey and has said that any support for the opposition hampers Syria’s fight against ISIS. Russia has been supporting Syria’s president Bashar al Assad while also trying to forge an alliance between Saudi Arabia, Turkey and the government in Syria in order to fight ISIS.”

“And in opening his meeting with Kerry in Doha, Sergei Lavrov said that the United States and Saudi Arabia should step in to settle the civil war in Syria. Kremlin spokesman Dmitri Peskov said Monday that quote ‘helping Syrian opposition, let alone helping with financial or military means would lead to a further destabilization of the situation in the country.'”

The Turkish government hesitated the past year to join the fight against ISIS, even though they share a border with Syria. They supported the rebels against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad when the civil war started four years ago. Media reports have on multiple occasions tied Turkey to the radical Islamic group.

But that all changed after a suicide bomber murdered 32 people and injured 100 in Suruç at “a cultural centre hosting anti-Islamic State activists.” Those at the event were about to head to Kobane, a strategic Kurdish town recently recaptured by Kurdish forces. Suruç is directly across the border from Kobane.

The government announced an airstrike campaign in Syria and gave America permission to use the Incirlik Air Base to strike ISIS in Syria. However, Turkey decided to also bomb the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), “a Marxist-Lenin terrorist group the Turkish government has vowed to eradicate along with ISIS.” While the Syrian Kurdish military allied itself with PKK, the Iraqi Kurds do not get along with PKK. The rivalry between PKK and Barzani’s Kudistan Democratic Party (KDP) traces back to the Iraqi Kurdish civil war in the 1990s.


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