Turkish share: why Erdogan has sent troops to Syria

In the night from 23 to 24 August, the Turkish army crossed the border with Syria — began the operation “shield of the Euphrates”, which can change the balance of power in the Syrian conflict. Contrary to many expectations, Erdogan has shown that even extremely complicated situation in the country will not force it to abandon its ambitions for Syria, which still plays a primary role in Ankara’s foreign policy.

Ritual purpose

The official purpose of the operation is the fight against terrorism and, in particular, with the “Islamic state” (IG banned in Russia organization, which controls territory along the Turkish-Syrian border from Dzharablus to ar-Rai. However, this is nothing more than a ritual statement, typical of all the external forces involved in the conflict — from the USA to Russia. It is unlikely the Turkish government took two years to see after the enemy, requiring immediate destruction. United States from the first days of the emergence of ISIS has pushed its allies in the region, primarily Turkey, to conduct ground operations against the jihadists, however, all Washington’s attempts were unsuccessful.

Of course, the main purpose of the Turkish invasion into Syria — the Kurds. They are today a major source of headache for Erdogan. After stalling in July 2015, talks between Turkish leaders and the Kurdistan workers ‘ party (PKK), in the South-East of the country is actually a civil war broke out, lasting to this day. The situation escalated to the limit after the failed July coup, when, taking advantage of the chaos in Turkish political and military circles, a member of the Executive Committee of the PKK Murat Karayilan declared the organization’s readiness to move to the “out of control war” if Turkey will begin negotiations with the leader of the Kurds Abdullah Acalanes, who is serving a prison sentence.

War, with varying success leads the Turkish army against the PKK since the 1980-ies is unlikely to solve the Kurdish issue, particularly during political turbulence. It pushes Erdogan for the opening of “second front” in the war with the Kurds, only to have Syrian. It is primarily the Democratic forces of Syria (SDF) is the main ally of the PKK in neighboring Syria.

Kurdish arc

The situation in Syria forces Turkey to act immediately. Primarily this is due to the recent successes of the Kurds in the North-East of the province of Aleppo. The capture in early August, Manbij in fact opened the way to Afrino, which means the possibility of uniting all the Kurdish cantons in Syria as a single territorial unit that stretches almost along the entire Turkish-Syrian border.

The result of such developments for Ankara carries both intra-and foreign policy risks. First, the success of the Syrian Kurds will certainly have an affect on their allies in Turkey and will strengthen the positions of the PKK in its confrontation with the authorities. Secondly, it will be completely broken relationship between the Syrian Turkomans and Turkey, which is almost completely deprived of access to loyal to the rebel structures in Syria. Thus, Turkish influence on the outcome of the Syrian crisis will be minimized.

All of this is pushing Turkey to play with the Kurds ahead of the curve, taking the position between Dzharablus and Atasoy, who is at present under the control of the IG. A decisive role is played here by the United States, for which the Syrian Kurds are allies in the fight against terrorism in the middle East, like Turkey itself. And this, in turn, means that Ankara is the only way to take a “pocket” between the Dzharablus and Azaz — while he is under the authority of the IG. Otherwise, it means a direct confrontation with the Kurds, which seems unlikely, given the presence of both sides the common denominator in the United States.

Active neutrality

No less interesting is the position of Moscow and Damascus to respect the territorial integrity and sovereignty of Syria. Not long ago, the Russian military threatened to give a “harsh response” if the Turkish army would invade Syria. Today the Russian side has taken a position of “active neutrality,” saying that he welcomes any action aimed at combating terrorism, although worried about the fate of civilians who may suffer as a result of this struggle. No less the duty and vague phrases limited and the Syrian foreign Ministry.

It firstly creates Erdogan’s favourable situation to indicate their presence in the pocket Dzharablus-Azaz. Second, it suggests that Turkey and Russia agreed on the delimitation of zones of influence in Syria. Moscow reserves control over the political center — Damascus and Latakia and Tartus, where the Russian military bases. In turn, the Northern parts of Syria are considered as the interests of Ankara. And, thirdly, sheds light on the current priorities of the Syrian government, in front of which the Kurds are far more evil than the rebels from the ranks of the moderate and not very much opposition.

The position of Bashar al-Assad’s understandable — the creation of a unified Kurdish arc in Damascus causes a panic. Fear of the necessity of granting Kurds a wide political and economic powers, autonomy, etc. in the case of further strengthening their positions on the ground, forcing the Syrian regime de facto to act in concert with one of the most consistent opponents — Turkey.

However, this turn is associated with costs. The Kurds, deprived of any expansionist ideas, do not carry a direct threat to the stability of the Syrian regime. In the future, they can only raise the question of redistribution of powers between the centre and the regions. The Union of Kurdish areas is able to close the Turkish-Syrian border and create a barrier to the Turkish penetration into Syria. In turn, the establishment of Turkish control over the border crossing Dzharablus, does not guarantee Assad peaceful life and, of course, will complicate the position of the Syrian government forces near Aleppo.

Most likely, the Syrian authorities are counting on Russia as the main mediator between Damascus and Ankara. The only question is if Erdogan is playing a double game, which, however, is not something unexpected, given the high degree of temporality in the formation of informal coalitions in the Syrian crisis. It is not excluded that the new configuration of forces caused by short-term interests of the parties, will not last too long.

The authors ‘ point of view, articles which are published in the section “Opinions” may not coincide with ideas of editorial.