Turkey does not see Russia starting to build and arm a military base in the city of Qamishli east of the Euphrates in northern Syria, a step directed primarily against it, but it is a step that raises a lot of fears and concerns and considers it another disastrous result of the disruption of US policy on Syria.
Ankara assesses the new Russian move as part of the growing “military contention” with the United States in Syria, and Russia’s quest to extend in the gaps left by the US administration’s confused decisions about the future of the US presence in Syria and the accompanying successive withdrawal decisions and retreat of them.
After the areas of northeastern Syria and areas east of the Euphrates were under US control, Moscow successfully exploited the recent transformations that accompanied the withdrawal of US forces from some positions with the start of the recent Turkish military operation , Nabaa al-Salam “spring of peace” to put its foot in those areas , a major breakthrough of this area that was culminated in the current November 14, when the Russian army announced on Thursday a quick and sudden move to deploy helicopters and a surface-to-air missile defense system at a military base in Qamishli, northeast of Syria, near the area where the Americans are based to extent its deployment from the central and western Syria to the northeast of the country. Moscow said several combat helicopters had arrived at the base, adding that it would provide support to the Russian military police, which is conducting joint patrols with the Turkish army in this sector of the border region of Syria and Turkey.
The new base in Qamishli airport is only about four kilometers from the US base known as the “Hemo base” in the western side of the city of Qamishli, and is not separated by any buildings, according to sources, US forces evacuated the military base “Hemo” at the western entrance of Qamishli permanently after its return weeks ago, indicating that the Russian base came after the withdrawal of US troops permanently.
Turkey’s decision-makers informally say that Turkey has never wanted to ally and cooperate with Russia on the Syrian file, and has worked for years to cooperate with the United States to achieve common goals of overthrowing the regime, ending Iranian influence, and the war on terrorist organizations without any result.
Turkey has been forced to cooperate with Russia, the regime’s ally after its priorities changed, as its first objective has become to fight the Kurdish units and prevent the establishment of a separatist entity on its borders after the overthrow of the regime was its first priority, as a natural result of the massive support provided by the US administration to Kurdish units and providing them with huge quantities of weapons, and Turkey was fully convinced that the US administration is working to establish a separatist state on the Syrian border with Turkey to be a hostile to it.
As a result of US policy in Syria, the administration’s refusal to understand Turkish fears and Washington’s likelihood of cooperation with Kurdish units over its first NATO ally (Turkey), Turkey’s power in Syria has declined and Ankara has come under endless political and military pressure from Russia.
After years of Turkish attempts with the US administration to reach any understanding to remove the Turkish strategic concerns in Syria, through talks, negotiations and political and military agreements, all failed to remove one element of Kurdish units from the Turkish border or withdraw one piece of arms from the organization that Turkey considers it, the first strategic threat on its national security.
As soon as Turkey announced on October 9 the start of the , Nabaa al-Salam “Spring of Peace” military operation to establish a safe area deep in Syrian territory and expel Kurdish units from its southern border, US forces (supporting the SDF and its backbone YPG) began to withdraw from some military bases. Scattered deep inside the target area of Turkey.
Turkey believes that this is due to two different reasons : the first is the presence of a strong anti-Turkey lobby in an unprecedented manner within the US administration and Congress , working against it openly contrary to the minimum requirements of the supposed alliance between the two countries, and the second is due to the unprecedented confusion experienced by the US administration and change its decisions in Syria, the lack of a clear strategy that Ankara could rely on which led to Turkish mistrust of any cooperation with Washington in Syria.
Within 48 hours, the administration’s position on the US military role there changed, it was multiple noting that there were many officials who spoke about it. Each one gave it a special move of confusion. Defense Secretary Mark Asper said the administration had decided to keep a military force there “of 600 soldiers and the number is subject to change.” But he did not say whether the change was going to increase or vice versa. On his part , General Mark Miley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, was less clear about the number “probably between 500 and 600”. But he shied away from limiting the size of the force to leave room for change. The confusion was not limited to the number but also to the task.
In the biggest example of this, American confusion and withdrawal decisions and retreat from them within hours led to the creation of large areas east of the Euphrates River enabling the regime to enter Manbij, Tal Refat, Kobani, Qamishli, Hasakah and other areas, along with Russia, which culminated in the establishment of a military base in Qamishli , about several kilometers from the Turkish border.
This step was an end to any Turkish hope to extend the operation of the spring of peace and the extension of the safe area eastward to Qamishli and to the Iraqi border as planned by Turkey for years, a “safe zone” has become limited between Tel Abyad and Ras al-Ain along a length of only 120 kilometers with the possibilities to expand for several Kilometers in the vicinity of those two regions only.
Certainly, this base will provide Russia with a tremendous intelligence capability to spy on US bases in Syria, Iraq and Turkey, where Incirlik’s strategic base is, and it asserts that Russian eyes will remain open throughout the moment to Russian and Turkish forces on Syrian soil, and may come in preparation for the imposition of a new reality in this region, Moscow often talks about the need for US troops to leave the country and the illegality of seizing Syrian oil. Moreover, the Russians view the understandings that have been made with Turkey regarding the situation in the northeastern regions of Syria as phased understandings, which should end with the restoration of the regime’s control over these areas, and therefore those who consider that the main Russian goal of establishing a base in Qamishli airport is to confront Ankara and Washington in the coming period, , what is certain that the Russian rush in the eastern Euphrates proved to have blocked Erdogan’s plans to reach the Iraqi border, especially after the deployment of Russian forces and the regime in Manbij and Ain al-Arab (Kobani) , and there was some other Russian goal from this rush , it was to put the Kurdish Self-management there in front of one option, it is Dialogue with the regime according to the terms of the latter , ie to give up its own project , that is the recognition of the cultural rights of the Kurds.
In any case, Moscow’s move to establish a base in Qamishli, with its conviction that the developments on the ground in Syria and the balance of power and political tracks, are changes in favor of its strategy, and may have benefited in all of this from the American confusion.
Although the map of influence in northern Syria has not yet stabilized, it is clear that we are now in front of three main areas of influence : The first is under the control of US forces and their ally, “QSD”, which extends from the Maliki (Derek) on the Tigris River to Qamishli to deviate south towards Deir Ezzro , in parallel with the Iraqi border, the second is under Turkish influence and extends between Ras al-Ain (Ser Kanye) and Tall Abyad and with a depth of about 32 km, and the third is under the influence of the Russian forces and regime forces , it extends from the point of Ein Isa in the province of Raqqa and heading towards three points, they are : the Ain Arabs (Kobani), Manbij and Tal Tamer in the Reef of al-Hasakah, these new maps have created a state of overcrowding, especially in the light of the joint patrols in these areas, to the extent that patrols of these forces may meet with each other in this area or that, which indicates coordination, and perhaps a Russian-American advance understanding, talked about it during the the meeting between Russian President Putin and US President Trump in February last year.
From the beginning, Washington’s policy towards the Syrian crisis was unstable. With the Trump administration, the pace of volatility accelerated. Specifically about the US military role in northeast Syria. The position on it remained and still oscillates between the desire to withdraw and reverse it , between reducing and strengthening this presence. In all cases, foggy was the common denominator, presumably likely to be like the case during the rest of the Trump administration. Position in the gray circle so that it allows the freedom to switch and change as per the requirements of the moment, which forms the basis of Trump’s foreign policy.
All these transformations prompted Turkish analysts to talk again about the existence of an unspoken US-Russian agreement, amid a significant increase in Turkish fears of secret agreements between the two countries have not been informed, which increased Turkish fear and prompted Erdogan to announce officially that bilateral agreements with Russia and America on the withdrawal of Kurdish units from the border has not been implemented, amid of increased Turkish conviction that Turkey’s only safe place in Syria is where only the Turkish tank stands, neither Russian nor American.
Turkish Studies Unit
Rawabet Center for Research and Strategic Studies