Recent contacts between Washington and Moscow over the crisis in Syria show that the US – or at least President Barack Obama – recognizes that it is a topic of great interest for Vladimir Putin’s Russia. This shouldn’t come as a surprise, as we still have the events in Georgia, the annexation of Crimea and the Ukrainian “loose end” to go by. These were achieved by Moscow taking military action and, in the final analysis, also define the framework of diplomatic policy.
A new status quo is starting to take shape not on the basis of the old Soviet guard, but on that of modern-day Russia, which by default remains the biggest power in the region, with a formidable nuclear and conventional arsenal, though not equal, of course, to the capabilities of the United States.
The Greek government has rightly refrained from any involvement in this process and participated, as much as it did, only by contributing to the shaping of European Union decisions, which don’t really carry that much weight in any case.
But Turkey has been active in many different ways, the most blatant of which was its shooting down of a Russian fighter jet. If Ankara’s intention was to stir a crisis in relations between NATO and Russia, it is obvious that it failed. Turkey’s allies expressed their support only with a lukewarm announcement and now the government of Ahmet Davutoglu is having to bear the consequences of Russia’s economic response and military pressure from Moscow.
It now comes down to Ankara’s NATO allies, and the US in particular, as to whether the establishment of an autonomous Kurdish state on Turkey’s southern border will be tolerated. The fear of such a development may force President Recep Tayyip Erdogan to stop acting alone on matters of foreign policy.
However, Ankara was successful in getting the European Union to open up the negotiation chapters regarding Turkey’s induction into the bloc, without ceding to demands regarding Cyprus. Neither Athens nor Nicosia reacted and once more expectations are being created about a solution to the division of Cyprus that are not in tandem with the real progress in talks so far. Of course, the fact that talks on some of the chapters have started does not mean that Turkey will necessarily get what it wants.
From a symbolic perspective, what remains to be seen is whether Davutoglu will attend a meeting being hosted on Thursday by the Austrian presidency of the EU between leaders of the member-states that intend to participate in the bloc’s refugee relocation program. It could signal the start of Turkish participation in European policy talks and may be a positive development, if, of course, Greece does not limit itself to the role of observer.