Turkey’s Uphill Battle in Syria #SyriaWar
President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has carried Turkish intentions regarding regions east of the Euphrates River in Syria to the U.N.
What he is saying in effect is that Turkey will not rest until these lands are cleared of the Peoples Protection Units (YPG), the Kurdish group Ankara has listed as a terrorist organization and a threat to its security.
Erdogan points to previous military operations by Turkey in Syria, which enabled Ankara to take control of the territory between Jarablus, Al Bab and Afrin, clearing these from the YPG.
There is, however, the not so insignificant problem for Ankara of the growing American military presence east of the Euphrates River.
President Donald Trump may have signaled a desire to pull U.S. forces out of there, but recent statements from Washington show that they will not be going anywhere soon.
In other words, America will remain in Syria for the foreseeable future, and continue its alliance with groups Ankara considers undesirable.
Having secured relative stability in this part of Syria, with the assistance of the Kurds, the U.S. will also contribute to strengthening the de facto local administration that is currently in the process of being established there.
Washington has already signaled that it wants a degree of autonomy for the region in any final settlement.
Russia is not averse to this, but is more concerned with getting the U.S. out of Syria. This is why Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov is accusing Washington of trying to undermine Syria’s unity.
This Russian position is good news for Ankara but cannot be ultimately relied on since Russia is not opposed to constitutional rights for the Kurds.
In other words, the convenient overlap of interests in Turkey and Russia’s approaches to the U.S. presence in Syria might not last if Moscow and Washington can agree on how Syria after the war should look like.
The hot potatoes in Syria, on the other hand, are likely to remain on Turkey’s lap. First and foremost there is the issue of Idlib. Turkey has received many congratulations, and has also congratulated itself amply, over the deal President Recep Tayyip Erdogan hammered out with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Sochi recently.
The deal has yet to prove itself with many outstanding issues still remaining. Not the least of these is the question of whether Ankara has the influence to convince the Jihadists there to give up their arms under a deal they were not a party too.
Assuming they did, though, where do they go then? Assuming they don’t, on the other hand, what does Turkey do with them? Fight them itself or let the Russians and the regime in to do this, and expand their hold over Idlib in the process.
In the meantime Turkey will also be lumbered with the question of refugees and have the responsibility of looking after millions of people, if it cannot get help from the outside world or from its nominal allies in Syria, namely Russia and Iran.
Turkey will undoubtedly remain in areas like Afrin, Jarablus and Al Bab as long as other countries continue their presence in Syria. It can stabilize these regions and has started doing so already. If, however, the situation in Idlib does not unfold the way it wants, pressures on these parts of northern Syria will increase also.
Moscow has cleverly engineered a situation where it has corralled all the elements it considers undesirable into a single region where it expects Turkey to keep them in check.
How Turkey is going to achieve this, force the YPG out of all regions along its borders, look after millions of refugees, and also have a decisive say over the Syrian constitution so that the Kurds don’t get some degree of self-rule remains a big question.
If it can pull it off, though, it will have proved its mettle as a world power with significant influence in a turbulent part of the globe, where its interventions can make a difference.
However, if it fails to do so, it will be left holding a large bill, while having achieved few of its objectives in Syria.
What the big picture tells us is that Syria has turned into a high stakes game for Turkey where the odds are far from being even.