As you can read at the following New Europe article, Turkey decided to allow France to use her military bases of Incirlik, in order for France to bomb ISIS in Syria and Iraq. See “Turkey opens airspace to French jets”, November 2015. Naturally Turkey has never allowed Russia to use her bases.
That’s a very impressive diplomatic move from Turkey, whose status was deeply hurt when the Russian President publicly accused Turkey of supporting ISIS by buying its oil. The Russian president said that the trucks carrying the oil to Turkey are so many that they form a moving oil pipeline. Moreover the Russian state-owned news agency RT (Russia Today) wrote that the companies of Tayip Erdogan’s son i.e. Bilal Erdogan, are buying oil from ISIS.
By opening her Incirlik bases to France, Turkey can say that she helps the war on terror. But I am sure that Turkey is not only trying to improve her image abroad. Turkey is going for a lot more than that. Remember that in the past Turkey has also allowed the United States to use her Incirlik bases to bomb ISIS in order to convince the Americans to agree on a Turkish controlled buffer zone at the Turkish-Syrian borders. Turkey needs a corridor to Syria in order to import oil and also help the Sunni Islamist militants she supports in Syria and Iraq. See “The Oil Fields of the Islamic State”.
But it is a sure thing that the United States would let Turkey know what they were doing in Syria and Iraq when they were using the Incirlik bases. The United States want to support the Kurds against ISIS in Syria, and also to prevent the oil of the Iraqi Kurds from falling under the control of ISIS, but nevertheless for the Americans Turkey is an ally and Russia is a rival. This is true even with the differences that arose between the Americans and the Turks over the Kurds and due to the American-Iranian rapprochement. Therefore Turkey is expecting the US to support her against Russia, who is a common rival.
After all, ISIS is not anti-American. ISIS is anti-Shiite and anti-Iranian, sometimes even anti-Saudi. But ISIS is not anti-American. It is al-Qaeda which is very anti-Shiite but also very anti-American. And that’s normal because there is a lot of Turkish influence over ISIS while there is a lot of Saudi influence over al-Qaeda, and the Turkish geopolitical interests are a lot more aligned to the American ones, at least when compared to the Saudi ones. See “ISIS VS Al-Qaeda Part 2”.
But let’s think about France and Turkey for a moment. In Syria, France has supported the removal of Bashar Assad with the same, if not with more enthusiasm than Turkey. Bashar al Assad is a Russian and Iranian ally, and the French are selling to the Arabs of the Persian Gulf weapons worth billion of dollars. When you sell so many weapons to the Arabs you need to offer them some protection too from the Iranians and the Turks. Moreover the French and the Arabs are cooperating in the energy sector. The French also have very problematic relations with the Turks and the Iranians. The point is that the French, together with their Arab allies, want Assad to go, and that’s what Turkey wants too. But that’s not what Russia wants.
Moreover Turkey is in a very difficult position because there is a European alliance against ISIS, with France, England and now Germany on board. If all these countries start bombing ISIS in Syria and Iraq, Turkey might have a big problem. Therefore it is a sure thing that Turkey would love to create a division between Russia and France. After all the Russians and the France might have a common problem with the Jihadists, but in Syria the French want Assad to go and the Russians want him to stay. By downing the Russian aircraft the Turks increased tensions with Russia and drew the US closer to Turkey, and made it ever harder for France to work with Russia. Now they are trying to bring France on their side too.
We should not forget that for France North Africa is a lot more important than Syria and Iraq, while Syria and Iraq are a lot more important than North Africa for Turkey. It is in Africa that the French army is hunting the Jihadists, and Africa is the main source of terrorism for France. Moreover we should not see ISIS as one thing. The ISIS of Nigeria has different interests than the ISIS of Iraq etc. We should see the various branches of ISIS in the same way we see NATO or any other alliance. International branches of ISIS can work together when they have common interests, and they cannot when they don’t. I usually refer to Turkey when I talk about ISIS because in military terms Turkey is the strongest country of the Muslim world, and it is a country that supports Sunni Islamist militants.
That does not mean that Turkey is the main influence over ISIS in Nigeria or ISIS in Afghanistan. I would expect Turkey to be the major influence over ISIS in Iraq and Syria. But it is difficult to imagine that any ISIS branch would ignore Turkey, and dare to go completely against Turkey’s wishes, given how important and strong Turkey is. The same is true for Saudi Arabia and al-Qaeda. What I am trying to say is that maybe Turkey could use her influence over the Jihadists of North Africa in order for the French to feel a bit more comfortable when they are sleeping, and France could pay less attention over the Jihadists of Syria and Iraq. In addition France has many problems with Islamists supported by Iran in North Africa, and maybe Turkey could help even more on this one.
Therefore Turkey could provide some help to France, given that North Africa is less important than Syria and Iraq for Turkey, and given that Syria and Iraq are less important than North Africa for France. After all both Turkey and France want Assad to go, and sometimes the Turks cooperate with the Arabs of the Persian Gulf, who are French allies, against Russia and Iran.
Therefore we have to wait and see how France is going to respond to the Turkish gesture, and also we have to see how far Turkey is willing to go with France. Because we can be sure that Turkey would not be willing to let France bomb whatever she wants and whenever she wants in Syria and Iraq. And we also have to see how the French-Russian relations will be affected if the tension between France and Turkey does indeed cool down. What is for sure though is that France has a problem with the Jihadists and Turkey will have to somehow help France with that, if she really wants to bring France closer to her and away from Russia. France and Russia on the other hand have the Jihadists as a common threat, and Turkey as a common rival, but in Syria they are on the opposite sides, because France might not be on the Turkish side, bus she is on the Arab side.
Another thing that must be taken into account is that the French know full well that by cooperating with the Russians they are making life hard for their American allies, because the Americans cannot support Russia against Turkey, at least not for now. Moreover the Russians are much closer to France’s main competitor in Europe i.e. Germany, and also Russia is a Chinese ally, and the French are competing with the Chinese for the resources of Africa. Therefore the French know that they need the Americans, and they know that by aligning with the Russians they make life harder for them, and that’s not good for France.
Finally we should not forget that just yesterday i.e. 29.11.2015, the agreement between the EU and Turkey was finalized, and Turkey will receive 3 billion euros to stop immigration flows from Turkey to Europe. Moreover Turkish citizens will have the right to enter the EU without visas. France must have also played a role in this agreement, and we do not know what she might have asked from Turkey in return.
Therefore, even though the Turkish gesture to allow France to use Incirlik is very impressive, we should better wait to see what will happen, and how the relations between France and Turkey and between France and Russia will be affected. But Turkey enjoys immediate benefits because she can say that contrary to what the Russian president said she helps the war on terror.