In 1949, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) was formed with the principal intention of countering the Soviet Union. This all begs the question: Why is a NATO member conducting joint military strikes with Russia in Syria right now?
According to Lieutenant-General Sergei Rudskoi, a senior Russian Defense Ministry official, nine Russian jets, and eight Turkish warplanes had jointly struck targets in the Syrian region of al-Bab, located not far from Aleppo. As Reuters reported:
“Today the Russian and Turkish air forces are conducting their first joint air operation to strike Islamic State in the suburbs of al-Bab,” Rudskoi said.
According to Rudskoi, the “assessment of the initial results…showed the strikes were highly effective.”
NATO member Turkey, along with Russia and Iran, was instrumental in implementing a peace deal in Syria that was viewed as promising at its initial stages and is still arguably making progress. The United States has had little to no involvement in these rapid developments in Syria, even though Turkey has long been a U.S. ally.
Turkey has also appeared to relax its stance on Assad somewhat, signaling its intention to join the Russia-China alliance, known as the Shanghai Cooperation Organization. This move could make Turkey a direct ally of Iran (Syria’s closest ally).
The United States’ final move in Syria appears to be to allow ISIS fighters safe passage into Syria — whether intentionally or not — to present one of the last remaining threats to the Syrian government. However, this may end up being a futile exercise as the Russian air force has begun to provide air assistance to fight off ISIS’ assault on the Syrian town of Deir ez-Zor.
If the Turkish and Russian authorities continue to operate in the region, it could place two NATO members at direct odds with each other. Currently, Turkey is more concerned with parts of Syria falling into the hands of the Kurdish and would rather they fall into the hands of the Syrian opposition.
Turkey’s support for the Syrian opposition complicates the issue, as Russia has shown they won’t hold back from relentlessly bombing the Syrian opposition into submission if they are seen to threaten the Syrian government’s hold over the country.
What is clear, however, is that the United States’ leverage in the region is beginning to wane, and key allies have been turning elsewhere for support in their so-called fight against terrorism.