Reuters — Nov 29, 2016
Time was that Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan dedicated large parts of his speeches to condemning Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad for atrocities against his people, calling for his ouster and urging greater support for the rebels fighting him.
Now, as Syrian government forces capture swathes of eastern Aleppo, threatening to crush the opposition in its most important urban stronghold, Assad and the battle for what was once Syria’s biggest city get little more than passing mention.
NATO member Turkey has been one of the main backers of Syria’s rebels since early in the near six-year war.
But rapprochement with Russia, one of Assad’s main allies, frustration with U.S. policy, and an overriding concern about securing its borders against Kurdish militia fighters and Islamic State have seen Ankara scale back its ambitions.
“At the moment, Turkey’s foreign policy in Syria is hostage to Russia. Russia controls the air space and Turkish soldiers are 30 km inside Syria,” said Behlul Ozkan, assistant professor in international relations at Marmara University in Istanbul.
“Turkey needs to be in agreement with Russia on every step it takes in Syria,” he said, or Turkish troops would be exposed.
In a speech on Tuesday, Erdogan condemned what he said was the failure of the United Nations in Syria and cast Turkey’s incursion in August, when it sent tanks, fighter jets and special forces over the border, as an act of exasperation.
“Close to one million people died in Syria, and they continue dying. Where is the U.N.? What are they doing? We kept saying ‘patience, patience, patience’ but could not take it any more and entered Syria,” Erdogan said.
“We are there to bring justice. We are there to end the rule of the cruel Assad, who has been spreading state terror.”
But Turkey’s “Operation Euphrates Shield” was not about battling Assad. It aims to sweep Islamic State from a roughly 90-km (56-mile) strip of the Syrian border and prevent Kurdish militia groups from seizing territory in their wake.
Tuesday was the first time in almost a month that Erdogan had mentioned Assad by name in a major public address, according to a review of his recent speeches published on the presidency website. He made no direct reference to events in Aleppo.