Ataturk attack and Syria's bloody quagmire
A triple Suicide bombing and gun shooting at Ataturk airport last week has rung the security alarm loudly in the world's main capitals. The terrorist attack that killed 42 people at Istanbul airport was not the first one to hit Turkish lands, it was the 5th since December of last year. However, this time the bombers were not Kurds neither were they Syrians; they were from the Russian Caucasus region and this indeed makes the attack a milestone for the foreign policy of Turkey and Russia as regards the Syrian war.
Since the outset of the Syrian crisis, Putin and Erdogan have opted to intervene intimately aiming for realpolitik ends, supporting different actors and seeking different goals. In an attempt to craft a champion role in the Middle East, Turkey supported opponents of the Assad regime, opening its southern borders for waves of arms and fighters while hosting political conferences in its capital.
Similarly, the conflict yielded Putin a golden opportunity to challenge his enemies, to regain a hegemonic role for his country, and to exit a decade of isolation. His adventurous military intervention in Syria on September of last year has succeeded to rescue the Assad regime from a likely collapse and imposed Russia as a vital player in the Syrian drama: a player who has the key to change the power balance on the battlefield.
Hitherto the long-term implications for the Turkish and Russian intervention has lethal prices; the most important one is the reproduction of the Islamic extremism trend that both countries suffered from in their modern history and that would shake their national security.
Remarkably, the Ataturk attack proves this, and seems to carry a message for both actors to recalculate their policies vis a vis Syria. The good news is that the attack came at a time when diplomatic realignment between Putin and Erdogan took place after the later apologised to his foe/friend and decided to bridge gaps with the Russian Federation. The truth of the matter is that this rapprochement has a paradoxical effect. On the one hand, it might prolong the conflict in Syria as the vital ally of the regime is now enjoying a leverage over one of the main advocators and military suppliers of the armed opposition groups. Nevertheless, on the other hand, it might draw an initial road map to end the war. Especially since Turkey and Russia are significant players on the scene and each of them has enough cards to press on their allies on the ground. In this light, Russian Prime Minister Sergei Lavrov met his Turkish counterpart Mevlut Cavusoglu this Friday and assured the media that they will ‘coordinate their policy over Syria’.
Certainly, it is up to those in Turkey and Russia to decide the form of this ‘coordination’ but they should bear in mind that intervention in Syria's bloody quagmire will not be priceless, uncalculated adventures might bear fruit on the short term, but would definitely catalyse devastating outcomes that woul
d backfire in Istanbul and Moscow. Hence, Putin and Erdogan advisors should perceive the Ataturk attack in this context.