Turkey should use its NATO leverage in a positive way
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken announced on Friday that he was sure Turkey’s objection to Finland and Sweden joining NATO will be solved during this month’s summit. To waive its objection, Turkey will not only ask for concessions from Stockholm and Helsinki, but also from the US regarding another planned incursion into the northeast of Syria. However, Turkey can use its leverage on this issue in a better way.
To start with, NATO is perceived by Russians in general and not only the Putin camp as the enemy of Russia. While during the Cold War the world was divided between NATO and the Warsaw Pact countries, the collapse of the Soviet Union prompted the dissolution of the Warsaw Pact. But NATO kept on expanding. Russian President Vladimir Putin has repeatedly stated that he will not allow NATO at his doorstep, which is why the 2008 candidatures of Ukraine and Georgia rang alarm bells in Russia.
The entire Ukraine war was waged because Moscow could not allow its neighbor to join an enemy camp; at least that was the declared reason for the war. But Russia’s belligerent behavior created a backlash. Sweden and Finland, countries that had opted to remain neutral after the Cold War, now want to join NATO to make sure they are not the target of any possible Russian aggression in the future.
This is where Turkey fits in. President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has been very skillful in benefiting from opportunities whenever they arise. Today, Turkey objects to the entry of these two countries to the alliance due to their alleged support of the PKK and their restrictions on the sale of weapons to Ankara. In addition, Turkey is negotiating a concession from the US regarding an incursion into Syria to push the YPG group away from the Turkish border. However, such an incursion would not really make Turkey safer. Only a comprehensive solution in Syria that involves the return of refugees can provide Ankara with the security it needs. Before its previous incursions, Turkey had clinched a deal either with the Russians or the US. Today, Turkey is seeking a deal with the US, but it should be talking to Russia.
Finland and Sweden’s entry into NATO will only render Putin more nervous and hence more aggressive. It will increase the pressure on him for sure, but not in a way that will push him to make concessions on Ukraine and end the war. On the contrary, he will become more defiant. The entry of these two countries would allow him to reinforce his populist narrative that NATO is trying to destroy Russia.
Here, Turkey can use its objection in a positive way and use its leverage to end the war in Syria. Turkey can instead propose a nonaggression treaty between Russia and Finland and Sweden. Such a treaty could offer guarantees to all parties. While it would offer a face-saving exit for Putin, it would probably not go down so well with the Swedes or the Finns. Russia had agreed, together with the US and the UK, to safeguard Ukraine in exchange for Kyiv giving up its nuclear arsenal in the 1994 Budapest Memorandum on Security Assurances — and they can see how that ultimately worked out.
The Finns have already had an especially bad experience with Moscow. In 1932, Finland and the Soviet Union signed a nonaggression treaty, only for it to be unilaterally revoked by the latter in 1939, when Joseph Stalin ordered an invasion. Hence, any new treaty should have a clause under which, if Russia breaks the terms, then Finland and Sweden’s entry to NATO becomes automatic.
The signature of all NATO countries would be required to make sure that, in the case of Finland or Sweden being attacked, no member country could object to their entry to the alliance and the triggering of the Article 5 principle of collective defense.
Instead of asking the US for a concession regarding an incursion into Syria, Ankara could ask Russia to remove Assad.
Dr. Dania Koleilat Khatib
Meanwhile, instead of asking the US for a concession regarding an incursion into Syria, Turkey could ask Russia to remove Bashar Assad and replace him with a military council representing the different factions in Syria. The council could then conduct the political transition as stated in UN Security Council Resolution 2254.
Assad has not been a very loyal client to Russia. Moscow’s disengagement with Syria since the Ukraine invasion has quickly been filled by the Iranians, with Assad’s blessing. A military council could guarantee Russia’s interests as a minimum. The Kremlin could even effectively have a seat on the council by nominating some of the generals it trusts.
The military council could also provide guarantees to Turkey, as it would have some sort of jurisdiction over the Kurdish faction. Today, the YPG operates on its own, with little supervision from the US, which keeps Ankara on its guard.
This is a golden opportunity to end the war in Syria and reach a detente with Russia, which could pave the way to the end of the war in Ukraine. This would be much better than raising the stakes and prolonging the confrontation, which is in nobody’s interest.
- Dr. Dania Koleilat Khatib is a specialist in US-Arab relations with a focus on lobbying. She is co-founder of the Research Center for Cooperation and Peace Building, a Lebanese NGO focused on Track II.