30 September 2011

Syria: Next Move?

Three days ago, facing strong Chinese and Russian resistance, the US and its European allies dropped their draft Security Council resolution to impose sanctions on Syria.

Yesterday, they abandoned any hope that they might find agreeable language for a watered down version of that resolution.

Enter Turkey:
Turkey is pressing ahead with plans to impose its own sanctions on Syria, despite European powers backing down from using the UN to punish the regime for its crackdown on the protest movement. (...)
In the absence of UN security council action, Turkey's move could be decisive in a six-month standoff between Syrian security forces and anti-government activists which has seen more than 2,700 civilian deaths and sharply destablised the region. 
Erdogan is preparing for a range of economic, military and political sanctions which will further damage the once-close relationship between the two states.
The timing and location of the expected announcement are interesting.

As the timing coincides with the UN failure to impose sanctions it reads a lot like a gesture of defiance from a rising regional power. Turkey seems to be signalling to Iran and others in the region that it is capable of acting alone and it does not need US, UN or EU backing. It has the means and the resolve to act by itself.

I wonder how Iran will react to this, considering its support of the Syrian regime and Hezbollah in Lebanon. And don't forget that this comes right on the heels of the missile shield system directed at Iran (as I mentioned here). From where the Ayatollahs sit, these must look like fairly threatening moves, fueling a Sunni ascendance in the region at Iran's expense.

The same defiant signal is also being sent to Russia and China. Russian governments have been careful to maintain friendly relations with the AKP government in Turkey. (It has long been rumored in Turkey that Putin and Erdogan have lucrative joint business ventures). And Turkey is much more important for Russia than Syria. Consequently, I doubt that Russia will get too worked up if and when Turkey announces those sanctions.

As for China, it has been forming alliances with strategically important countries like Iran and Pakistan. Their main goal is to thwart the American plan to control a large portion of the global distribution of oil and gas. So they are deeply involved in this game. But I believe they will remain cautious and will not overreact to Turkish sanctions.

The location of the announcement is interesting as well. When I first wrote about this, I suggested that, if there was large scale exodus from Syria, Turkey could use it as a pretext to create a buffer zone inside Syria and from there it could exert a lot of pressure on the Syrian regime. The Syrian army had the same thought and early on they blocked the roads to the border to prevent such an exodus.

But the location of the announcement made me wonder if there is something we don't know:
The Turkish measures are likely to be announced early next month, following a visit prime minister Recap Erdogan to camps in southern Turkey holding refugees who fled violence across the border and fear reprisals by security forces if they return.
The plot thickens.

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