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What Are Turkey and Russia Doing in Syria?

Authors: Kathy Gilsinan, and Steven A. Cook, Eni Enrico Mattei Senior Fellow for Middle East and Africa Studies
December 19, 2016
The Atlantic


When an off-duty police officer fatally shot the Russian ambassador in Turkey on Monday, he reportedly shouted: “Don’t forget Aleppo. Don’t forget Syria.” Russia has attracted broad international condemnation for its role in the sustained siege and bombardment of rebel-held enclaves in Aleppo, which in recent days fell to the forces of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and his allies.

Turkey and Russia have been on opposite sides of the conflict, with Turkey arming fighters opposed to Russia’s ally Assad. Last November, Turkey shot down a Russian military jet it said had violated its airspace, prompting a rupture in relations. Following an attempted coup against him over the summer, though, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan paid his first post-coup visit to Moscow, where he met with Russian President Vladimir Putin and began to mend the rift. Last week, Turkey and Russia brokered a deal with Syrian rebels, and without the United States, to evacuate civilians from Aleppo; the foreign and defense ministers from Russia, Turkey, and Iran are still scheduled to meet in Moscow on Tuesday to discuss the situation.

Monday’s attack took place in a context of spillover from the Syrian conflict into Turkey, where ISIS has staged several attacks in the last year, even as the Turkish government fights a separate battle against Kurdish separatists in its southeast and over the border into Syria. Following the attack, I spoke to Steven A. Cook of the Council on Foreign Relations about its background and its implications. A condensed and edited transcript of our discussion follows.

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