Their statement runs counter to comments by US national security adviser Susan Rice – who had said that Turkey had agreed with Washington to let coalition forces use its military bases.

Meanwhile the Turkish government is under pressure to take a more decisive role in fighting ISIS. Turkey has seen protests over its perceived lack of action – but the government wants to see any help tied to a coalition pledge to oust Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad.

To discuss this, VoR’s Brendan Cole is joined by:

Tunç Aybak, programme leader of international politics at Middlesex University and adviser at the Center for Turkey Studies

Bill Park, senior lecturer in Defence Studies at Kings College London, and author of Modern Turkey: People, State and Foreign Policy in a Globalized World

Galip Dalay in Ankara, a political researcher at the SETA Foundation

Alexander Sotnichenko in Russia, associate professor at the St Petersburg State University, Department of International Relations


TA: “I think we are fishing in muddy waters here, because there is no clarity on whether Turkey agrees to the use of military bases or not. Actually, this has been the typical policy of Turkish foreign policy practitioners in many respects. Turkey seems to have chosen a passive-aggressive posture in relation to the Syrian crisis.”

GD “Turkey did not deny this … rather it said there is nothing new in our conversation with the United States, but that does not exclude the possibility of the US using military bases in Turkey, and I think the end, the military bases in Turkey are going to be used.

“Right now the primary concern for Turkey is that the use of military bases is depicted in the context of bombing ISIS, but not the rest of the Assad regime. I think somehow, Turkey wants to get in somewhere some declaration about some measures or action against the Assad regime. But I think in the end, Turkey will let the coalition."

BP:“I’m not sure there is that much ambiguity about the Turkish position. Essentially what they’re looking for is a commitment to the overthrow of Assad first and foremost, with a number of steps between now and that, things like establishing a humanitarian corridor inside Syrian territory, and a no-fly zone. So I think this is hard bargaining on the part of Turkey. They’ve been pushing this kind of agenda for some time now. And I think their position is quite clear.

“What is interesting about it is that it contrasts so much with Washington’s Arab allies in the region, who very quickly committed to joining the bombing campaign against ISIS. So Turkey’s position is distinctive, but I’m not sure it’s that ambiguous.”

TA:“I think that [Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan] is very reluctant to commit himself to a grand operation at this very moment. I think the tactic Turkey adopted here is a shallow one in the sense that there is this ‘Assad’s enemies are my friends’ attitude. This is a dangerous strategy and that’s why Turkey has become the victim of its own policies in relation to the situation in Syria.

GD: “Turkey is in a hard position. On the one hand ISIS is posing a threat to the Kurds in Kobane, but also, once Kobane falls, ISIS will cause a menacing threat To Turkey. On the other hand, Turkey regards the PYD (the Syrian Kurdish Democratic Union Party) as Syrian wing of the PKK and rightly so. In the end, despite the peace talks Turkey’s conducting with the PKK, the PKK is still considered a terrorist organisation by Turkey. There is considerable opposition against Turkey offering any military help to the PYD or Kobane, but right now this is not what the PYD is asking for.

“What the PYD is asking for is opening the corridor for arms or other supplies to be transferred to Turkey, to Kobane, and I think the government regards such actions as in some sense strengthening the PKK and thinks it will have negative impact on the course of the peace process. But doing nothing is also having a negative impact on the course of the peace process, so therefore I think it is a hard situation for the government to be in.”

BP:“I think Turkey has had some credit but not enough assistance in its support of the million or so refugees that it’s hosting at the moment. On the issue of the PKK, I think when you look at Turkish behaviour you have to accept there’s a sort of pecking order, and I accept that absolutely that this is a very difficult situation for Ankara, but I think first of all their priority is to overthrow Assad … but I think second comes the PKK and the PYD in Syria, and I think the Islamic State has come third in Turkey’s priorities.

“If you think about it, if Kobane falls, it’s not only a blow to the Kurds and to the peace process inside Turkey, it also means another bit of the border with Syria is controlled by the Islamic State, and yet Turkey … is doing nothing in the face of that possibility. So it looks a bit like … the bottom priority for Turkey is the Islamic State – and of course it’s very much the other way round for the US and its allies.”

AS: “[The relationship between Moscow and Ankara] has changed but not dramatically. We have the same high level of economic relations … the situation with ISIS is really the position which cannot change our cooperation because Russia and Turkey don’t like the situation in Iraq. We are sending weapons to Iraq, and Ankara also tries to support the international coalition.

“At the same time, neither Russia or Ankara are taking part in the active phase of operations. We are not bombing the positions of the rebels. So I think this situation can even unite the positions of our countries.”

“The main problem with Russia is that Russia does not have its own programme to resolve the conflict in the Middle East, and that’s why we can support the position of the international coalition or oppose it - but we are not showing our own programme.

“Turkey is now in the most difficult position it has been in for the last 15 years. It has so many enemies. They want to be against the Assad regime, the Kurds in northern Syria, against ISIS because it has become part of the coalition, so … I don’t know how Erdogan will fix all these problems.”

BP:“The problem that Erdogan has in the longer term is that NATO is very polite in a sense – it doesn’t expel its members, and it doesn’t tick them off, but the rhetoric coming from Erdogan in particular and from Ankara in general is about as anti-Western as anybody’s in the Middle East at the moment even including Tehran. So I feel that yes, Erdogan’s a great tactician domestically, but he’s doing massive damage to Turkey’s alliances externally.”

AS:“I think that the history of the Ottoman Empire is very relevant to Turkish political life. Ottomanism is a concept and very popular in Turkey now. Some days ago Professor Norman Stone wrote that Turkey drew its borders in 1923 when the population was only about 10 million people. Now it is part of the G-20, it wants to be part of the most powerful economies in the world in the next 15 years, so it has great plans.

“Turkey feels itself to be a great regional power and … Russia cannot reject relations with Turkey in the region. The only way to resolve the problems in the region is regional communication and cooperation between Russia, Turkey, Iran, Saudi Arabia, and we should know that the problems in the regions can come from the non-regional powers, like the United States. I see great prospects for relations between Russia and Turkey in the region.”

TA:“I am not sure how sincere Turkey is about European Union membership because the EU membership has served its purpose in the sense that Erdogan effectively used the EU to push the army into the background.

“Now he’s much more critical, but I don’t think discourses are abstract things. They are related to foreign policy practices. The Ottoman or neo-Ottoman discourse is there. We can only make sense of these actions by referring to this neo-Ottoman [discourse].

“Erdogan is constantly alienating people. I would not count on his democratic credentials.”

BP: “I’m not convinced that [Turkey] will come to the aid of the people in Kobane. In any case it’s getting rather late in the day. We’ve been hearing that Kobane’s going to fall for a number of days now, and one’s getting a little bit puzzled about exactly what’s going on there. Turkey’s done everything but come to the aid of the people in Kobane. It’s obstructed humanitarian assistance. So I’m not sure Turkey is hiding away or disguising that much about its role in the region.”

“He [Erdogan] is speaking to those who support him. He is almost a cult figure at least amongst his own supporters in Turkey and he knows what appeals to that electorate or at least that part of Turkey’s society.”

AS: “I think that the history of the Ottoman Empire is very actual for Turkey’s political life because Ottomanism is a conception which is very popular in Turkey right now. Professor Norman Stone some days ago wrote that Turkey got its borders in 1923 when the population was only 10 million people and there were no great problems in the region. Now, Turkey is a part of the G20 and it wants to be a part of the ten most powerful economies in the world in the next 15 years.

“Turkey has great plans. It is a very small country for such great people and they really want to reform and revise the situation in the Middle East. Turkey feels it is a great regional power and is really trying to re-think the situation from the beginning of the 20th century – the invasion of the West and nowadays, the invasion of the United States into Iraq, Afghanistan… It gives Turkey a good example – what to do and what not to do in the region.

“Turkey has become a real power and Russia cannot reject its relations with it.”