Russia and Turkey are getting awfully cozy at the G-20

Much of the action at the G-20 has once again turned out to be a contest similar to that seen in high schools around America, where the various cliques compete to see who gets to sit at the big kids’ table. But unlike previous years, it’s currently a bit more difficult to figure out who’s with the in crowd and who’s on the outs. There’s been plenty of analysis already about how President Trump is handling his role there in the various comings and goings, but I find myself watching some other interactions even more closely, particularly those involving Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. The Tyrant of Turkey was probably already prepared for something of a cold shoulder after he was asked not to bring his brutish bodyguards, but his dance card remains full. Erodan had a formal meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin yesterday which was raising some eyebrows in foreign policy circles. (Associated Press)

Russia President Vladimir Putin has met with Turkish counterpart Recep Tayyip Erdogan on the sidelines of the Group of 20 summit, hailing his contribution to Syria peace efforts.

Putin said at the start of their meeting in Hamburg that Erdogan’s stance “has made it possible to improve the situation in Syria.”

Erdogan similarly praised Putin’s role and noted that efforts by Russia and Turkey “set a clear example for the international community.”

Yes, it’s a bit of a love festival between Russia and Turkey this week and this only underscores the increasingly complicated task facing Trump as he tries to sort out matters in Syria and Iraq. Keep in mind that we supposedly just sealed an initial deal with the Russians which is supposed to result in a ceasefire in the southwestern region of Syria starting tomorrow. But at the same time, Turkey has moved some of their troops into position where they may be getting ready to strike at the Kurds who are leading the charge to rout ISIS out of their remaining strongholds. (These are the same Kurdish fighters who are supported by the United States and have some of our advisers stationed in the region.) That move is seen as part of a wider, less formal arrangement which has been reached between Turkey, Russia and Iran.

At the same time, Germany, France and Russia had a meeting on Friday to discuss the long delayed cease-fire in eastern Ukraine. That’s supposedly an item on the US agenda as well, but we didn’t seem to be part of those talks. With Merkel, Macron and Putin announcing an “agreement” on that subject, the connections are further complicated. (For the record, they’ve all supposedly agreed on a cease-fire before and it’s never been more than lip service, so that may not be changing at all in the near future either.)

The days of firm allies and adversaries seem to be a thing of the past. Donald Trump has a huge challenge on his hands here and this particular G-20 summit is far more than the dog and pony show atmosphere which has defined many of these summits in recent history. If we’re serious about “doing something” in Syria, we need to be able to define whether Assad is to be part of the solution or if he remains a part of the problem and needs to be removed. The latter seemed to be our position until quite recently, at least in the beginning of April shortly before the first missile strike on them. But if we want Russia to take our side on at least some of these challenges, does that mean that we’re now going to back Assad? Or at least conveniently ignore the fact that he’s still in power and controlling a chemical weapons stockpile?

The summit wraps up today. With any luck we’ll be getting some clarity on precisely what Trump accomplished after he returns. I’d make a prediction, but frankly this has left me scratching my head. Is Turkey still our official ally even if they force the Kurds to fight a two front war? There’s a lot which could go very, very wrong in the near future over there and President Trump will need to tread carefully.