Aijaz Ahmad: Downing of Russian Warplane Might Intensify the Conflicts in Syria
Newsclick interviewed, a noted international affairs commentator, on the situation in Syria. Ahmed said that the overall military scenario in the Syrian-Iraq region has changed after the Paris attack and after Turkey shot down the Russian warplane. Russia would be deepening the intervention in the region. He said, Russia has no distinction between the jihadi groups which the US and its allies have. It is evident that the US has backed Al-Qaeda and other jihadi groups in the region which are against Bashar al-Assad. The US coalition did not attack any of the jihadi groups including Daesh unless the Russians attacked them. This resulted in a change in the tone of NATO and its alliances. Ahmed says he won't be surprised if Russia extends its air cover since they are looking for a settlement at the earliest. Otherwise, it would be a greater conflict between the countries, especially between the US and Russia.
Prabir Purkayastha (PP) - Hello and welcome to Newsclick. Today we have with us Professor Aijaz Ahmad, well known commentator on international affairs.
The recent shooting down of SU24 by Turkey. It is a very worrying development because Turkey is part of NATO, Russia is nuclear power. So how do you explain what Turkey seems to have done?
Aijaz Ahmad (AA) - One thing, now looking back, I would say two things. One it seems so outrages that Turkey would do it it's own that I had first assumed as soon as I have heard it. I had first assumed that it did so upon US prompting. Because Americans also very worried about the fact that, the Russians are not making distinction between Daesh, the IS whatever you call it and the other jihadi groups.The Russians are saying, they are all terrorists and so on, where as Americans are making that kind of distinction. I thought it was an American prompting. It appears that, it is not. They might have used intelligence given to them by Americans, they might have done whatever. So my sense is that, it is very peculiar moment for Erdoğan, where on one hand he has the arrogance of having recaptured the majority in Turkey at home and therefore feeling that, he can do whatever he wants and will take country along with him and moment of panic. Because unless something dramatic happens, the little strip that Turkey still controls the roots and Turkish intelligence, really special forces are active. They are in the verge of loosing it.
PP - That is a supply to Jabhat al-Nusra, which is Al-Qaeda affiliate as well as IS.
AA - Yes, of-course it is to all of them. That is the other part of the Turks is that, they are taking pretty much Saudi sort of position. In which, all these jihadis need to be supplied without exception. Americans as usual are bungling. Increasingly now there is evidence accumulating to show that, in the early period Americans knew what was going on and this Daesh was about to be launched. But secretly and consciously they also supporting the Daesh and later on sort of withdrew from Daesh but anyway Turkey not only their supply lines, their actual Turkish pursuance, intelligent networks, special forces fighting alongside these people. Those supplies coming in, all of that, the fantasy of a 5Kilometre no-fly zone over Syria, you shoot down a Russian aircraft and Russians don't have to concede anything in terms of airspace and so on. So he has done it at this time, I look at it as a peculiar combination of arrogance and overplaying your hand and panic.
PP - One clear issue post Paris attack has been that, France has been arguing, there should be a coalition including Russia against Daesh, that is been the position France being taking. And the US seems to be much more ambivalent about it, talking about Bashar al-Assad must go, not talking anything beyond Jabhat al-Nusra being a terrorist organisation, not Al-Ahrar ash-Sham, not all other splinter groups which are part of the Nusra lead fronts. Distinguishing between them seems to be spurious. But US had been taking that kind of position. Do you think, Turkey therefore worried that Russia being admitted into this coalition means, that actually their whole line of separating Bashar al-Assad and Bashar al-Assad has to go, all that position would collapse and actually the Syrian army would also part of this coalition. By the way, the French foreign minister said that, the Syrian-Arab army can also be part of the coalition, by saying but only after Bashar al-Assad goes. So there is that kind of ambiguity but the initial statement was yes, even the Syrian Arab army can be part of this, out of this anti-IS force. Do you think that, therefore he is trying to really prevent the realm from happening?
AA - I mean he is trying to prevent but...I think yes, in terms of France, the attack in Paris had made lot of difference. But the fact of the matter is, the very bold decision that Putin made and the scale at which they made an entry into the battle field. And therefore, in terms of international law, they are the only ones who have legitimate position of intervention. He has come-in absolutely clearly stating "I am going to drive them out and I don't make distinction between Al-Qaeda and Daesh". It is the change on the battle ground. The fact that the air cover that the Russians gave made it possible for the Syrian army to start capturing territory from IS as well as from any other jihadi groups. That I think creating these effects, where positions keep shifting, day after day. Within couple of days, the US retreats a little more. Now they are saying Bashar al-Assad can stay for six months. Now they are saying only problem is Saudi won't agree to it. Soon enough this six months business will also drop. So it is that the Russians have said, we want your co-operation but we are going to do anyway. You say, they are your enemies so let us co-operate.
PP - The other part of it is that, Russia also has produced proof if there was a necessity. Turkish buying oil from Daesh. Kilometres of long convey of trucks flying between Turkey and Daesh, which Americans have not bombed till date; they only claim to bomb it after Russians bombed them. And some people have pointed out, even the videos are Russian videos, which they are saying this is our bombing. So there is this whole issue that, the Turkish were very much wed with Daesh in terms of taking oil supplies from them and apparently it is very senior officials of Turkey are involving including Erdoğan's son, that is what being talked, Bilal Erdoğan apparently is part of this but we don't the details of it. Do you think that, this also anger Turkey in it's response?
AA - Everything is angering them because their feel of operation is getting narrow and narrower. And on the question of this oil supplies going to Turkey and so on, this is became an open secret. The Russians chose until now not to divulge what they know. In the last meeting of G20, Putin openly said, that we know some of the people sitting here in this room have been supporting. They are the ones who diverged this. Evidence now, visual evidence, the fact that Americans never bombed that which is obviously the target, shows up not only Turkey is buying it but Americans making it possible for them to buy it. They could have bombed easily all by this time but they haven't. So Americans have showed-up in that sense. All of them are in great confusion. The British military says unless the people on the ground, we should not go. It is a old thing that the American general told Bush before the Iraq war, unless you are willing to put five hundred thousand troops on the ground, you can't do it. Now Cameron is being told. Cameron is saying that, we have seventy thousand troops fighting on our side but he can't tell you who this seventy thousand are fighting on your side.
PP - And what is your side itself is a question.
AA - You know, every single person who is enough archive on the planet seems to be one of those seventy thousand. So there is a panic. The only country in which I think no panic is Germany. Germany, I think decided much earlier that, they had to deal with the reality sooner only you have to deal with Bashar al-Assad government and specially now after the refugees, their response has been, we will take as many refugees we can but the way to stop it is stop the war.
PP - Also interesting that Stoltenberg, the Secretary General of NATO, he talked about Daesh being the enemy. He didn't mention Al-Qaeda. That is interesting.
AA - Yeah, NATO means Americans. Americans don't say, none of them say Al-Qaeda as enemy. Al-Qaeda are the people they are supplying arms to and what they don't tell you is that, many of the arms actually go to Daesh. Even the distinction between Daesh and Al-Qaeda is a very peculiar sort of distinction. Yes, organisationally they are different but people; you know these are not standard army, people move back and forth and groups back and forth, lot of money is involved. Daesh is flushed with money. It can offer members of the various Al-Qaeda affiliated groups. Money to overcome the weapons, etc. So all of that going on and they all know but they have public posture that none of that exists.
PP - The Kurds, particularly the YPGs really creating their space of the Southern border of Turkey, Northern part of Syria. They now need about 70 Kilometres between the Afrin and Rojave enclaves to really join together then they have the contiguous right entire border would be then the Kurdish border, except this really North Western part of Latakia, that is the only part still would be there, which is where Turkey has been claiming Turkmen and we are the protectors and so on. But if that happens, it will really dries up the total root for the IS and Jabhat al-Nusra. This has been main supply to it. So do you think that, under Russian cover YPG could also start taking this space? because the Turks have threatened them with various dire consequences if they move West of Euphrates.
AA - It much depends on what the Russians decide over next couple of days. They haven't really shown their hand in terms of what is their overall response to this going to be. But the way they are doing things is clear that, there are lot of consideration is going to be in decision making but some decisions are yet to be made or taking to the stage of implementation. I will not be surprised if the Russians actually start standing real air cover to the YPG. And actually expedite this process of they are taking over that 70 Kilometres to Afrin. Because now after what Turkey has done and inability of the Turkey's friends to restraint Turkey, after this, gulf has to be off. Russians must also be saying that, 4-6 weeks when they paid for ceasefire comes in territory is Daesh. Now, interestingly we don't know how far Russians are going to press it. So all of that is been geared-up. I think there will be increased military engagement by the Russians.
PP - So you see this really as Erdoğan overreaching and it is going to boomerang on him. This is the way you read this?
AA - Yes, and the combination is, his arrogance, panic and miscalculations as to how the Americans would behave. He also doesn't realise that, Obama is not fighting another election. He has no stakes in madness. He doesn't have to play at the military's gallery beyond what he himself already capable of but he can't be pushed into it.
PP - And you also anticipate next 4-6 weeks, there would be real serious peace talks, at least bring some kind of stability in Syria. Would that be your expectation?
AA - That is what seems to be the calculations all around. Because the horizon seems to be emerging and this party you can see in agencies' coverage of these things, and the horizon seems to be that, at most two months, they are projecting some kind of move towards ceasefire. So that by the summer, actual negotiations over the formation of next government would be in place and elections next year.
PP - That would be very important development. Aijaz, really pleasure to talk to you and will keep on following with you regarding development in West Asia, particularly Syria. Thank you.
AA - Right. Thank you.
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