With the world’s attention focused on Russia’s war in Ukraine, Turkey is preparing to launch its own special military operation in northern Syria. Ankara seems to be taking advantage of the conflict in Eastern Europe to achieve strategic goals in the Middle East.
It is no secret that Turkey aims to create a 30 kilometer deep buffer zone across its border with Syria. But to do so, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan would need to get the green light from Turkey’s NATO ally, the United States, as well as at least tacit approval from his enemy Russia.
Turkish troopsplan to seizethe cities of Tel Rifaat, Kobani, Ain Issa and Manbij in northern Syria. Currently, the region is under the control of the Kurdish-dominated People’s Protection Units (YPG), which Turkey considers a terrorist organization and an extension of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK).
The problem for Erdogan is that Washington sees the YPG as an allied force against Islamic State (ISIS) militants. Could the United States be about to to betray Kurds again?
Recent CommentsState Department spokesman Ned Price say the United States and Turkey have yet to reach a final agreement on northern Syria. We recognize Turkey’s legitimate security concerns at its border, Price said. But again, we fear that any new offensive will further undermine regional stability.
Since Washington needs Erdogando not sabotageNATO membership applications from Finland and Sweden, it is entirely possible that the United States will soon indirectly approve of the Turkish military incursion into northern Syria.
Without outside support, Kurdish forces are unlikely to be able to withstand the combined might of the Turkish armed forces and its proxies from the remaining Syrian rebel stronghold in Idlib. If the United States does not prevent Turkey from launching a military operation in the region, the Kurds will almost certainly lose control of a significant portion of the strategically important territory.
However, one can wonder if the Turkish army will seize Manbij, a city whichstands at a major crossroadsof roads on Syria’s west-east highway known as the M4. Since it is the Russian army that patrols this route, it is unlikely that Turkey will attack Manbij unless it tries to strike a deal with the Kremlin first.
From the Russian perspective, some kind of land swap Manbij for Jabal al-Zawiya in Idlib would be the best option. But given Russia’s weak position in the international arena and its preoccupation with the ongoing military fiasco in Ukraine, Turkey is unlikely to agree to such an arrangement.
Instead, in order not to seize Manbij, Ankara could demand certain economic concessions from Moscow, such as a discount on Russian energy and grain.
Russia’s isolation does not allow the Kremlin to impose conditions on Turkey, which means that a possible agreement with Erdogan would have a very high price for Moscow.
Reports suggestthat Russia recently redeployed some of its troops from Syria to Ukraine. More importantly, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrovsclaimthat Russian forces in Syria have almost no military missions left makes it clear that, at least for now, what is happening in Syria is not Moscow’s top priority.
For the Kremlin, at this stage, it is very important to avoid further escalation in the region, and to preserve relatively good relations with Turkey.
It is therefore not unlikely that Russia will simply turn a blind eye to another Turkish incursion into Syria, even if such a move would represent yet another humiliation for the Kremlin on the world stage.
Although Russia acts as a major ally of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, in reality Moscow cannot guarantee Syria’s sovereignty and territorial integrity. A passive approach regarding Turkish operations in the north of the country would be another demonstration of Ankara’s influence over Russia.
Theoretically, Russia could provide a symmetrical response to Turkish actions by pushing Assad’s Syrian Arab Army to launch a military offensive in Idlib. The problem, however, is that Assad’s forces are unlikely to make any significant gains in the province where Turkey has increased its military presence and continues to support its proxy forces, namely the Syrian National Army.
In response to Erdogan’s announcement of an operation in northern Syria, Russia reportedlyshippedfighter planes and helicopter gunships to a base near the border with Turkey. This decision could be interpreted as a message from the Kremlin to Ankara.
But Turkey is fully aware of Russia’s poor military performance in Ukraine, as well as Russia’s unfavorable geopolitical position, and therefore Moscow’s gesture will be seen as an empty threat that will not affect itsmilitary plans.
The fate of the Syrian Kurds will largely depend on the United States rather than Russia. If the United States approves of Turkish actions, Ankara will establish control over significant parts of northern Syria. Going forward, Turkey, through its Syrian rebel proxies, could use the territory as an instrument against Assad in Damascus and his ally Russia.
This article was provided by Syndication desk, who owns the copyright.
Follow Nikola Mikovic on Twitter at @nikola_mikovic.
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