Russia’s current military fiasco in Ukraine could have a serious impact on Moscow’s position in Syria. Turkey’s decision to close its airspace to Russian planes flying to the Middle Eastern country is expected to affect Russian military capabilities in war-torn Ukraine, though such a move is unlikely to jeopardize relations between Moscow and Ankara.
After Turkey blocked the passage of the Black Sea to Russian Navy ships on February 28, Russia took no retaliatory action. It is therefore not surprising that the Kremlin’s response to Ankara’s latest decision has also been rather muted. “Moscow understands Ankara’s decision to close Turkish airspace to Russian planes flying to Syria,” said Maria Zakharova, the official representative of the Russian Foreign Ministry. Semyon Bagdasarov, a Russian Middle East expert who is also a member of the Russian parliament, stressed that it was only a matter of time before the United States pressured Ankara to impose such restrictions.
Turkey is likely seeking to take advantage of Moscow’s unfavorable geopolitical position and secure some of its interests in Syria.
In order to continue to supply its troops in Syria, Russian planes will now have to fly over Iranian and Iraqi airspace. There are, however, fears in Russia that the longer its so-called special military operation in Ukraine lasts, the more pressure the West will put on countries that wish to continue cooperation with Moscow. It is entirely possible that the United States and its allies will eventually pressure Baghdad to close its airspace to Russian planes. In such a case, Russian troops in Syria would be completely isolated.
This appears to be one of the reasons why Alexey Malashenko, an expert at the Moscow-based Institute of World Economy and International Relations, recently said that if another Arab Spring-style uprising breaks out in Syria, the Kremlin should most likely retire. Russian troops from the Middle Eastern nation. Indeed, without stable supply lines and with the ongoing invasion of Ukraine, Russia is unlikely to want to provide the same level of support to the Syrian Arab Army as it has. during the most active phase of the Syrian civil war.
Turkey is likely seeking to take advantage of Moscow’s unfavorable geopolitical position and secure some of its interests in Syria. Konstantin Sivkov, vice-president of the Russian Academy of Rocket and Artillery Sciences, believes that Ankara “is trying to encircle Russian military bases in Khmeimim and Latakia as much as possible”.
Still, Turkey seems to be hedging its bets. To date, Ankara has refused to join anti-Russian sanctions and is reportedly looking to buy Russian Su-57 jets instead of upgraded American F-16 fighters. At the same time, Turkish authorities aim to attract more Russian tourists this summer. The very fact that Russia has recently increased the number of flights to Turkey suggests that the Kremlin has no intention of spoiling its relations with Ankara either.
Moreover, Moscow seems to indirectly support some of Turkey’s actions in Syria. For example, in an interview with the Turkish daily Aydınlık, Yevgeny Prigozhin – presumed to be the owner of the paramilitary organization Wagner Group and to have close ties to Russian President Vladimir Putin and the Russian Ministry of Defense – called Ankara’s attacks on Kurdish guerrillas in Iraq and Syria of “holy war of the Turkish army”. Earlier, Putin thanked Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan for facilitating the prisoner swap between Russia and the United States, suggesting that Ankara is likely to continue to mediate not only between Russia and the United States. Ukraine, but also between the Kremlin and the White House. .
Isolated from the West, and alone in its military adventure in Ukraine, Moscow does not seem to have too much political leeway vis-à-vis Turkey.
The problem for the Kremlin, however, is that Ankara seeks to exploit the political and military weaknesses that Russia has demonstrated in Ukraine, and to increase its influence not only in Syria, but also in other regions that are still in the area of influence of Moscow. As Russia remains preoccupied with the war in Ukraine, Turkey is considering normalizing relations with Armenia – the Kremlin’s ally in the Russian-dominated Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO). At the same time, Ankara is actively strengthening military cooperation with several Central Asian countries that are still in Russia’s geopolitical orbit.
On April 22, Turkish and Tajik defense ministers signed a framework agreement on military cooperation between the two countries. Tajikistan, which is also a Russian ally in the CSTO, is said to have recently purchased a Turkish-made Bayraktar drone, while neighboring Kyrgyzstan – yet another Moscow ally – has already purchased sophisticated unmanned combat aerial vehicles in Ankara. More importantly, Turkey continues to supply Ukraine with Bayraktar drones, and the Kremlin turns a blind eye to such actions.
Isolated from the West, and alone in its military adventure in Ukraine, Moscow does not seem to have too much political leeway vis-à-vis Turkey. This is why the Kremlin intends to preserve its situational partnership with Ankara, even if in the long term the Turkish decisions to curb the passage of Russian ships through the Dardanelles and Bosphorus straits, and to close its airspace to Russian planes going to Syria , could have an impact on the position of Moscow’s client, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.