The recent missile strikes by the United States, France, and Great Britain against regime targets in Syria, and the call for snap presidential and parliamentary elections in Turkey seem to have pushed Ankara’s plans regarding northern Syria to the back burner for now.
In the meantime, Turkey is concentrating on consolidating its gains in parts of Northern Syria it captured with its Free Syria Army allies from the Islamic State (IS) and U.S. backed YPG fighters.
With developments in Syria unfolding fast, though, it’s not clear what Ankara will face in that country after the elections on June 24.
For the moment, all the talk about “moving on to Manbij next to clear it off the YPG,” has been toned down. Officials in Ankara say talks are ongoing with Washington on this matter but there is little evidence to suggest that progress has been made.
What the U.S. position will be under the new -and reportedly hardline, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is still unclear. What is evident is that Washington is not going to give up on the YPG easily.
In fact, the U.S., it appears, is not going to give up on Syria that easily.
President Donald Trump has been trying to find excuses to back-pedal on his promise to pull American forces out of that crisis. He sees now that he can’t do this when the rivalry with Russia, and the enmity with Iran are at a peak again.
The future of Erdogan’s plans to capture Manbij and the whole region east of the Euphrates up to the Iraqi border from the YPG remains uncertain in this environment.
A further complication for Ankara is that Washington and Paris – both patrons of the YPG and supportive to varying degrees of Kurdish aspirations – are cooperating in Syria much more closely now. Their joint strikes against regime targets seem to have consummated this relationship.
Ankara’s dilemma is that it is still relying on the west to act against Bashar al Assad and his regime. Its enthusiastic support of the American-led strikes against regime targets showed this clearly. In fact Erdogan is criticizing the west for not mounting more strikes against Assad.
This, however, leaves Turkey in a dodgy situation with Russia, the power it relies on most to be able to carry out its plans against the YPG in northern Syria, and to prevent the emergence of an autonomous Kurdish region along the Turkish border.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s recent remark that Turkey should hand over the parts of northern Syria it captured to the regime disturbed Ankara. It showed that there are limits to Turkey’s reliance on Russia in Syria.
Turkish support for the American-led strikes in Syria, in turn, showed Moscow that there are limits to what it can expect from Ankara.
Ankara has to also face the Iran factor and its effect on the Syrian crisis at a time when the Tehran supported Assad regime is gradually heading for victory.
It will the interplay of the factors listed above that Ankara will have to contend with one way or another after the elections and its task will clearly not be an easy one.