Conflict update: December 1


I wasn’t planning on doing one of these tonight, and this one may not be as comprehensive as these usually are, but I feel compelled to say something about the amazing, ongoing cucking of Tayyip Erdoğan at Vladimir Putin’s hands. Amberin Zaman has been covering this for Al-Monitor, and it’s really something else. Two days ago, Erdoğan spoke at something called the Inter-Parliamentary Jerusalem Platform Symposium (surely it sounds better in Turkish), and at some point during his remarks this happened:

At first it was to clear Turkey’s border of the Islamic State (IS). Then it was to roll back the Syrian Kurdish militants of the People’s Protection Units (YPG). Today brought a brand-new explanation for why Turkish troops entered northern Syria in August to team up with opposition Free Syrian Army (FSA) rebels: “Why did we enter? We do not covet Syrian soil,” President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said in Istanbul at the Inter-Parliamentary Jerusalem Platform Symposium. “We entered there to end the rule of tyrant [Bashar] al-Assad. [We didn’t enter] for any other reason.”

This is quite a statement, considering that Erdoğan and other Turkish leaders have really stopped talking about toppling Assad and instead have emphasized that their decision to invade Syria is, as Zaman says, about fighting ISIS and/or confounding Kurdish ambitions. Turkey’s official position, that Assad must go, hasn’t changed, but it’s just been heavily de-emphasized. Or at least it had been until Erdoğan said this. But yesterday Erdoğan talked to Putin by phone, and lo and behold we got to witness a true Festivus miracle:

The talks apparently resumed only after Erdogan and Putin spoke on the phone on Nov. 30. On the same day, Erdogan publicly declared that the target of the Turkish-led Operation Euphrates Shield in northern Syria was “not a particular country or individual” but “solely terrorist organizations.”

Apparently, unbeknownst to you or me, Erdoğan has been trying to play deal-maker by arranging back-channel talks between Moscow and some elements of the Syrian opposition. Only when he shot his mouth off about Assad, Moscow let him know, in so many words, that he could take his talks, and his Syrian rebels, and cram them both. Presumably that’s what motivated him to, ah, clarify his remarks, even though, if you recall, Turkey is currently vowing to get “retribution” over what it says was a Syrian airstrike last week that killed three Turkish soldiers. This also comes at a time when Erdoğan must be very concerned about the impending fall of eastern Aleppo, which only makes his meek walk back stand out even more.

It’s not clear what the Russians and rebels have been talking about–though a ceasefire in Aleppo may have been one thing, which means Erdoğan and his unsubstantiated machismo may have blocked a much needed pause in the fighting there. But it’s unlikely that Russia is preparing to ditch Assad in favor of the rebels, so these talks would’ve undoubtedly been at Erdoğan’s request.

What this all suggests, to me at least, is that Tayyip Erdoğan, Sultan Recep I, the Lion of–well, I don’t know, Ankara, I guess–has maneuvered his nation and himself into a position where they’re begging for scraps from Vladimir Putin’s table. It’s not like he has much choice; he’s devoted so much of his fake tough guy domestic image to resisting the West that he has to take international goodwill anywhere he can find it. This is what happens when you alienate your country’s traditional allies because your ego can’t handle even the most toothless criticisms of your inexorable effort to make yourself an elected dictator with the power to jail any political opposition.

As far as Aleppo is concerned, Russia is talking about opening up corridors into the remaining rebel-held areas of the eastern side of the city to allow aid in and evacuees out as Syrian forces continue their offensive. Over 50,000 people have left the city during the fighting, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. As for the number of dead, well, there’s simply no way to even hazard a guess until the fighting finally stops.


According to the Kurdish news service Rudaw, Iraqi forces in Mosul have reduced the effectiveness of ISIS suicide bombings after coalition aircraft targeted the bridges connecting the western and eastern sides of the city across the Tigris, and after they began “cratering” several roads that ISIS was using for its car bombs. Still, the timeline to retake the city still looks to be on the order of months rather than weeks. Interestingly, the offensive’s decreased momentum seems not to have severely affected Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi’s newfound wartime popularity. Without passing judgment on Abadi himself, an improvement in how Iraqis view their own government wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world as the country tries to stitch itself together once the Mosul offensive is over.


China is denying an Indian news report that Chinese forces are making regular security patrols in Afghan territory. Afghanistan shares an extremely short border with China’s Xinjiang province, whose Uyghur population is a constant threat for radicalization, when it’s not being grossly abused by Beijing. So it wouldn’t be entirely out of the question for Chinese authorities to take an interest in what’s happening there.


Kiev went ahead with its planned missile test over Crimean airspace earlier today, to no immediate response from Russia.


A prominent Oromo leader named Merera Gudina has been arrested by Ethiopian authorities and accused of participating in “terrorist” acts. Since Gudina was returning from speaking at an EU conference when he was picked up, his arrest may generate some kind of response from the Europeans.


The UN says that, owing to the conflict with Boko Haram and its impact on farmland, at least 400,000 children in northeastern Nigeria are at risk of famine, and 75,000 people may starve to death just within the next few months. If you didn’t exhaust yourself on Giving Tuesday, you may want to consider giving something to the UN World Food Programme, which is doing the bulk of the work in Nigeria.


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