“Turkey is acting recklessly and inexplicably,” Vitaly Churkin, Russia’s ambassador to the UN told the Security Council at a closed-door meeting on Tuesday.
Churkin was not, as you might have guessed, referring to Ankara’s brazen move to shoot down a Russian warplane near the Syrian border late last month (although we’re quite sure that Moscow would classify that as “reckless and inexplicable” as well).
Churkin was referencing Erdogan’s decision to send between 150 and 300 Turkish troops along with around two dozen tanks to Bashiqa, just northeast of the ISIS stronghold in Mosul.
The Russian ambassador is correct to characterize the deployment as “inexplicable” – at least in terms of Ankara being able to offer an explanation that makes sense to the general public. The official line is that it’s part of an ongoing “training mission” that Iraqi officials agreed to at some point in the past. Baghdad denies this.
Masoud Barzani supports the Turkish effort (and how could he not, given the fact that without Turkey, the Kurds wouldn’t be able to transport crude independently of Baghdad) which serves to provide a kind of quasi-legitimacy to the Turkish presence. But as we outlined last weekend, this may simply be an attempt to secure oil smuggling routes and ensure that Turkey’s interests in Islamic State-held territory are preserved.
The latest from Iraq – as we outlined earlier today – is that some lawmakers are now looking to annul the country’ security agreement with the US on the way to inviting the Russians in to help fight ISIS. As for the “situation” with Turkey, Iraq’s UN ambassador Mohamed Ali Alhakim told reporters after Russia raised the issue that Baghdad and Ankara “are solving it bilaterally.”
“We have not yet escalated it to the Security Council or to the United Nations,” he added.
Yes, “not yet,” but it’s difficult to see how “bilateral” talks are going to solve this given the fact that Erdogan clearly had some idea of what he wanted to accomplish by sending troops and tanks to Mosul. He had to have known going in that the whole “we’re just replacing 90 troops that had been there for the better part of two years” excuse wasn’t going to fly with Shiite politicians and the various Iran-backed militias who are all hyper-sensitive now that the The Pentagon has suggested the US is set to insert ground troops to assist the Peshmerga in their efforts against ISIS.
Well, when you start to discuss the Security Council in the context of the conflicts raging in Syria and Iraq, it’s important to remember that Russia isn’t the lone voice of dissent among the five permanent members. Recall that back in May of 2014 Beijing voted with Moscow to veto a Security Council resolution that would have seen the conflict in Syria referred to the Hague. Here’s what China had to say at the time:
For some time now, the Security Council has maintained unity and coordination on the question of Syria, thanks to efforts by Council members, including China, to accommodate the major concerns of all parties. At a time when seriously diverging views exist among the parties concerning the draft resolution, we believe that the Council should continue holding consultations, rather than forcing a vote on the draft resolution, in order to avoid undermining Council unity or obstructing coordination and cooperation on questions such as Syria and other major serious issues. Regrettably, China’s approach has not been taken on board; China therefore voted against the draft resolution.
Thus far, China hasn’t involved itself directly in the latest round of Mid-East conflicts, but if Xi were to step in, it’s clear that he would side with the Russians and the Iranians which means that when it comes to Turkey and the US putting boots on the ground in Iraq against Baghdad’s wishes, Beijing would almost surely fall on the side of the Iraqis.
Sure enough, on Wednesday, the Chinese Foreign Ministry weighed in for the first time. Here’s an excerpt from the statement by spokesperson Hua Chunying:
“The Chinese side believes that we should deal with state-to-state relationship in accordance with purposes and principles of the UN Charter as well as other widely-recognized basic norms governing international relations, and that Iraq’s sovereignty and territorial integrity shall be respected.”
That may sound like a rather generic statement, but in fact it sends a very clear message. The implication is that Turkey has violated Iraq’s sovereignty and territorial integrity and that is not something the Security Council should condone.
The question becomes this: what happens when Baghdad annuls its agreement with Washington and the US troop presence ends up representing a similar violation of Iraq’s sovereignty?
If Baghdad were to go to the Security Council and claim that The Pentagon’s deployment of SpecOps to northern Iraq constitutes an illegal act, how would the five permanent members resolve an intractable dispute between the US and France on one side (don’t forget, the French are bombing Iraq as well) and Russia and China on the other?
In short: how long until Xi decides it’s time to awaken the sleeping dragon and enter the Mid-East fray?
For now, Chunying says Beijing will “closely follow the development of the incident.”