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Development prospects in northern Syria

On Wednesday April 4, 2018 a trilateral Turkey-Iran-Russia summit took place in Ankara. The three Syrian Peace Guarantors agreed to take steps for more humanitarian aid and reconstruction work. Apart from it Iranian President Hassan Rouhani and his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin expressed their understanding with Turkey’s interests in Kurdish-inhabited northern Syria. Tayyip Erdoğan emphasized that unless Turkey ensured “security in all the regions controlled by the [US-backed] YPG first of all, in Manbij”, they would not stop.

It’s not the first time Erdoğan has threatened Manbij with a combat assault. Earlier this year Turkish President promised to extend the military operation in Syria to the town of Manbij and even demanded in a phone call with U.S. President Donald Trump that the U.S. troops be withdrawn from the town. Nevertheless the mass media speculated in vain that Turkey was going to confront the USA and NATO in the north of Syria since no backwash was ever to come.

Two months later the story has repeated itself. Erdoğan shows himself determined to wipe out Kurds from Manbij. However this time there may be far graver consequences in the Syrian political arena to face.

It is quite a vexed issue whether the Turkish military presence in the north of Syria is legitimate as it has never been based on invitation of Damaskus which is not the case with Iran or Russia. However Ankara is aimed at nipping a long-desired dream of Syrian Kurdish autonomy in the bud because it would inevitably inspire Turkish Kurds to struggle for independence. Erdoğan launched an offensive against YPG even despite their U.S. support. The NATO countries took it apparently calm as Erdoğan would repeatedly slam the Assad regime in the spirit of the Western partners. As far back as early February he demanded the sitting Syria’s president should leave. That is why Turkey’s forthcoming march on Manbij was not taken too seriously. Confronting the USA with no allies by its side would mean an inevitable political blockade, so Ankara limited itself to Afrin then.

Many changes have taken place since February. During the trilateral meeting in Ankara Erdoğan said the losers of the crises were the Syrian people, but everybody knew very well who the winners were. A statement like that could be interpreted as Ankara’s recognition of de facto Damascus’ victory in Syria’s civil war. Such a monumental change in the Turkish-Syrian relations is likely to have a far-reaching impact on Ankara’s relations with its NATO-partners as well. The joint success of the tripartite meeting and neutrality Rouhani and Putin have demonstrated towards Turkey’s champagne in northern Syria can surely empower Erdoğan to throw a large offensive against Kurdish controlled areas despite the presence of the US-led coalition.

The NATO itself has long been disturbed by Turkey’s too independent activity. French President Macron responding to Trump’s push for soldiers withdrawal from Syria promised to quickly send troops in order to block the advance of Turkish forces. There are already as many as five French military bases in northern Syria; however they are unlikely to stop the Turkish leader whatsoever. First of all, Ankara has an utterly firm position on the Kurdish issue and will not give it up. For another thing, Turkey enjoys currently the support of the two biggest and most successive actors on the Syrian stage, while the international US-backed coalition can’t possibly hold a candle to their achievements. Taking into account Erdoğan’s earlier statement President Assad may as likely as not turn a blind eye to Turkey’s questionable footprint in the north of Syria. Besides there will certainly be no cause for mourning in Damascus if the international coalition representatives turn out to be on list of casualties among others since they are believed to offer active support for terrorist groups in the war-torn country.

It is quite possible Turkey should not avoid confrontation with the western partners in its conflict with the Kurds any longer. Ankara stands to boost its influence in the region especially amid possible U.S. troops withdrawal which is more like a flight. The French forces won’t turn the scale in the flavor of the US-backed coalition either because more vigorous Turkish troops are bound to defeat the Macron’s forces. Moreover, the French society will never forgive their leader for it. Turkey will thereby force the unsupported Kurds to give up on their dream of autonomy in the north of Syria. Ankara can eventually turn into even a more powerful actor than the USA, with the West losing more and more influence in the region. If the scenario described comes true, the world shall witness a unique coincidence of Ankara’s and Damascus’ interests which will result in stable and secure Syria.


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