The Turkish military intervention in Syria is directed at both ISIS and Kurdish militants, both of which have moved dangerously close to the Turkish border.
Turkish army tanks move toward the Syrian border, in Karkamis, Turkey, Aug. 25. Photo: AP
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On Aug. 24, Ankara launched military operation “Euphrates Shield” in Syria. Turkish troops crossed the border of the country amidst a joint ground operation with Syrian opposition forces to push back the Islamic State of Iraq and the Greater Syria (ISIS).
Supported by U.S. warplanes, the military campaign also targets the Democratic Union Party (PYD), a Kurdish militant group that shares the same ideology as the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), a Turkish military group that is considered to be a terrorist organization by Ankara, Brussels and Washington.
Remarkably, the military operation started amidst the official visit of U.S. Vice President Joseph Biden to Turkey. Even though the U.S. supported the Syrian Kurds and the People’s Protection Unit (YPG), Biden’s visit indicates that Washington might change its priorities in favor of Turkey.
In fact, backed by the U.S., the Syrian Kurds have used the fight against ISIS and the chaos of the Syrian conflict to seize nearly the entire stretch of the border with Turkey in northern Syria. Biden flew into Ankara hours after the offensive was launched, and he supported Turkey with a warning to the Kurds to stay east of the Euphrates, which crosses from Turkey into Syria at Jarablus.
Kurdish forces "must move back across the Euphrates River. They cannot, will not, under any circumstance get American support if they do not keep that commitment," Biden said during his talks with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
In fact, Turkey has always sought to intervene in Syria. However, before such a decisive military move, it had to repair relations with Russia or at least alleviate the tensions.
However, the intrigue now is how the operation will affect Turkish-Russian ties, which have just started strengthening after Erdogan’s visit to Moscow. With Biden’s visit and Turkey’s intervention in Syria, Russia will keep a close eye on these events, given its specific interests in the region and support for Syrian President Bashar Assad’s regime.
Nevertheless, the Turkish authorities claim that they don’t plan on violating Russian interests in Syria. Moreover, Turkey is even ready to cooperate with Russia. A week before the operation, Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yildirim told the media that, “Fixing relations between Turkey and Russia is very beneficial for the Syrian policy.” Now, he says, “there is willingness and desire to work together.”
Such an ambiguous policy means that Ankara is trying to straddle between Russia and NATO, which is going to very difficult, given the Kremlin’s inherent suspicion towards the West.
However, in the current situation, Turkey just doesn’t have any choice but intervening. In fact, as indicated by the announcement of the Turkish authorities at a National Security Council meeting on June 29, “The Turkish government wants to send a very strong message to both ISIS and the PYD.”
It means that any move by these groups westward from the Euphrates River, where the city of Jarablus is located, is declared as a red line by Turkey because the river is a natural border between ISIS and its nemesis PYD in northern Syria.
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Ankara cannot help intervening in such a difficult situation that could spin out of control. With Turkey or without, the Syrian conflict continues right at its border. While hosting up to three million refugees and being a victim of several suicide attacks, Turkey suffered a great deal, no less than its Western counterparts, including France and Germany. From Turkey’s standpoint, active involvement is inevitable.
Russia, Turkey and the current Syrian regime are all in favor of the territorial integrity of Syria. Nevertheless, interests and approaches to the solution are very different. All parties, including the United States, want to come to an agreement and reach some kind of common ground.
However, at the same time, all sides are not hesitating to raise the tensions in order to strengthen their positions. In a conflict with plenty of players who appear willing to keep raising the stakes, the sixth year of the Syrian civil war might not be its last.
The opinion of the author may not necessarily reflect the position of Russia Direct or its staff.