Since the Syrian uprising began in 2011, Ankara has been drawn ever deeper into the crisis. Its approach will likely hold steady for now. But the choices it makes next matter for the fate of millions of Syrians.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s re-election has allayed fears among many Syrians that Ankara’s policy toward Damascus might dramatically change at their expense. With the Turkish leader firmly in the saddle for another five years, Ankara is intent on keeping its troops in parts of Syria’s north. It also seems likely that the over three million Syrian refugees in Türkiye will mostly be staying there, at least for the time being. Ankara has been talking to Damascus about renewing ties severed when the war broke out, and it will continue doing so, but Erdoğan’s new cabinet is staffed with officials who see too many national security concerns stemming from Türkiye’s southern neighbour to risk a precipitous shift in approach. For the refugees, along with millions more displaced in northern Syria, continuation of the status quo averts, or at least delays, the upheaval that a rupture in Turkish policy would cause. Yet it also leaves these Syrians in limbo, vulnerable to the vicissitudes of a war whose protagonists, Türkiye included, are pursuing largely irreconcilable objectives and lack clear strategies for achieving them.
Erdoğan enters his third presidential term in a strong position but facing a multitude of challenges. Türkiye is in an economic tailspin, which is putting serious political strain on Ankara’s approach of generosity toward the Syrian refugees. Ankara’s agreement in July to stop blocking Sweden’s accession to NATO will help smooth its relations within the alliance. But tensions with the U.S. remain, including over the Turkish purchase of Russian missile defence systems as well as Washington’s choice of the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) as its main partner in its anti-ISIS campaign in Syria. Türkiye’s delicate relations with Russia also require constant recalibration, in part due to Ankara’s impasse with Moscow’s ally in Damascus.