28 December, 2015

Russia’s Shifting Strategy in Syria: Implications for Turkish Foreign Policy

Hasan Selim Özertem

​Director of the Center for Energy Security Studies at the International Strategic Research Organization (USAK). He is a contributor to the German Marshall Fund’s “On Turkey Series” and one of Turkey’s prominent foreign policy monthlies "Analist". He is also the co-editor of the academic journal “Review of International Law and Politics”. Özertem’s research interests are security, political economy, energy, elite politics, Russia, the Caspian Basin, and Turkish Foreign Policy.

Russia’s intervention in Syria has changed both political and military balances in the Middle East. Though in the past Russian support for the Syrian Baath regime was limited to technical capacity and political maneuvers, sending its jets to Syria marks a shift in policy. This analysis argues that the main factors driving Russia’s intervention were: the changing military dynamics in Syria that began in spring 2015 and saw a real challenge posed to regime forces, the shifting balances in the international system after the P5+1 agreement, and Russia’s desire to flex its military muscle in the Middle East. The paper then goes on to examine the implications of Russia’s military intervention for Turkish foreign policy. This begins by arguing that the risk of military confrontation in the air between Turkey and Russia necessitates the creation of new channels between the states in order to avoid the risk of diplomatic and military escalation. Avoiding such escalation would also ensure that bilateral cooperation in the economic sphere would not decline. Finally, the analysis suggests that, given the new realities Russia has created on the ground, Turkey will be forced to revise its policies on the Syrian conflict.

* To continue reading this paper as a PDF, please click here or on the icon above. An earlier version of this paper was delivered at the ACRPS Symposium on Russian Military Intervention in Syria, held in Doha on October 24, 2015.