Erdogan Opposed to Removal of Armed Groups in Syria’s Idlib: Russian Analyst

TEHRAN (Tasnim) – A political commentator based in Moscow said Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan “traditionally” regards armed opposition groups in Syria’s Idlib as legitimate fighters and it is difficult for him to agree to help remove them.

Erdogan Opposed to Removal of Armed Groups in Syria’s Idlib: Russian Analyst

“The armed opposition groups in Idlib traditionally were viewed by Turkey as legitimate ‘fighters against Assad’s regime’, so it is difficult for Erdogan to agree to help in their removal,” Dmitry Babich said in an interview with the Tasnim News Agency.

“We have seen this reflected in Erdogan’s conduct during the summit,” he added, referring to the recent summit between the presidents of Iran, Russia, and Turkey in Tehran.  

Dmitry Babich, born in Moscow, has been an active journalist for over 25 years, focusing on Russian politics. Graduating from Moscow State University, Babich has had a successful career in Russian journalism. He has previously been a senior correspondent at the Komsomolskaya Pravda daily, RIA Novosti, and Russia Profile magazine. Between 1999 and 2003, Babich was a foreign editor at The Moscow News before returning to Russia Profile in 2009 as acting editor-in-chief. His core areas of focus include Russia’s modern political history, international relations. Babich is currently working as a political analyst at Sputnik International and is a frequent guest on BBC, Al Jazeera, CNN commenting on international affairs and history.

The following is the full text of the interview:

Tasnim: As you know, a trilateral summit was held recently in Tehran between Iranian President Hassan Rouhani and his Russian and Turkish counterparts, Vladimir Putin and Recep Tayyip Erdogan, about the Syrian crisis. According to Iranian Foreign Ministry Spokesman Bahram Qassemi, the summit was not expected to resolve all issues surrounding the prolonged crisis in Syria but it aimed to facilitate more steps to combat terrorism and restore tranquility to the Arab country. What do you think about the success of the summit as well as Iran’s regional role?

Babich: I think that the comments of the Western media about the “failure” of the trilateral summit because of president Erdogan’s inflexible position – I think these comments are short-sighted and do not see the big picture of the developments. Yes, it is very difficult for president Erdogan to acknowledge his mistake of supporting the armed insurgency in Syria which started in 2011 and continues to this day. Yes, the armed opposition groups in Idlib traditionally were viewed by Turkey as legitimate “fighters against Assad’s regime,” so it is difficult for Erdogan to agree to help in their removal. We have seen this reflected in Erdogan’s conduct during the summit.

But there are two factors which will work for a change in Erdogan’s position and will push him towards accepting Iran’s and Russia’s anti-terrorist stand. First, the terrorists, including the groups present in Idlib, have already destabilized the situation in Turkey, we all remember the wave of terrorist acts against Turkey in 2015. Second, the modern West (US, EU, and their allies) is guided by a very rigid, radical ideology, which is unable to pardon leaders, which it at least once declared to be enemies. Erdogan in the years 2016-2017 was, in fact, declared an enemy of the West in both the EU and the US. So, the West will not thank him for Turkey’s support for Idlib groups. And this means that there will be no incentive for Erdogan to continue that support. Instead, Erdogan will be forced by history to move towards Iran’s and Russia’s position. 

Tasnim: The tripartite talks came as Syrian forces continue to reclaim much of southern parts of the country and are poised to soon launch an offensive in Idlib, one of the last remaining areas outside of Damascus’ control. What is your assessment of the summit’s impact on the military developments in Syria?

Babich: The summit can have only a limited effect on the general trend, which is determined by the developments inside Syria. The Syrian people are tired of war and the terrorist groups failed to produce a legitimate and popular alternative to President Assad. So, the war will gradually be ending, for the lack of “fuel” for it.

Tasnim: In his remarks at the summit, President Rouhani deplored the Washington government’s negative role in the ongoing crisis in Syria and said the “illegal” military presence of the US will only “increase the problems that already exist in the country”. What do you think about the US military presence and its bonds with terror groups in Syria?

Babich: The US presence in Syria is illegitimate, illegal, immoral and harmful. The example of Central Asia, where American bases were finally removed from Uzbekistan and Kirgizstan, - this example shows that if there is a consensus among the local nations that Americans should get out – they will get out back to the US. The Turkish, Iranian, Syrian and Kurdish peoples need to agree that Americans can’t solve the problems of the region. When these nations agree on this, Americans will go. The links of the American policy in Syria and Libya to terrorist groups there are for all to see, but even terrorists cannot operate on a wholly hostile turf. So, the key is in a union of local nations against terrorism and US interventionism.