Erdoğan eyes Kurdish northern Syria amid Ukraine crisis - analysis

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has turned the geostrategic tide in favour of Turkey as it seeks to launch a new offensive into northern Syria to create a buffer zone along the country’s southern border, France 24 said on Thursday.

While Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s proclaimed objective is the elimination of Kurdish forces it sees as a security threat, it said, in reality, Ankara is focusing on the Kurdish presence in northern Syria.

Turkey sees the Kurdish forces as an extension of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which is listed as a terror group by Turkey, the United States and the European Union, and thus an existential threat, and has launched three major incursions into the region, targeting the group.

Ankara aims to force the Kurdish-led and U.S. backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) fighters out of areas on the Turkey-Syria border that Ankara wants to control as part of a 30-kilometre “safe zone”, where Syrian refugees could be relocated. The plan arrives amid increasing controversy in Turkey over the some 3.7 millions of Syrian refugees in the country.

Since the start of the conflict in Syria, Ankara has displayed “complete opposition” to an autonomous Syrian-Kurdish presence south of its border,’’ Fabrice Balanche, a professor at the University of Lyon-II and research associate at the Washington Institute, told France 24.

“The objective has not changed: to replace the Kurds by Arab populations displaced by the conflict and by local pro-Turkish militias loyal to Ankara’s interests in order to constitute an Arab belt, a sort of anti-Kurdish buffer zone, in northern Syria,’’ Balanche said. 

Balanche maintained that the “territories taken from the Kurds could become a self-proclaimed Republic of Northern Syria, like the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus.” 

The latest threat of a military offensive arrives as international attention is focused on the war in Ukraine, giving Ankara “a geopolitical opportunity that Erdogan does not want to pass,” according to the expert.

“In a way, he is asking the West what is their priority: to thwart the Kremlin's plans in Europe or to support the PKK? Presented like that, his calculation is not a losing one,” he said. 

The Turkish president is bent on achieving his goals in northern Syria, despite U.S. warnings, according to Balanche.

Washington last month warned Turkey against launching a new military operation in northern Syria, saying the uneasy NATO ally would be putting U.S. troops at risk. U.S. allies in the region have warned that the incursion could embolden and even strengthen the Islamic State (ISIS) terror group, Voice of America reported.

While the Biden administration can place sanctions against Turkey, France 24 said, Ankara holds key geostrategic cards, including a veto power over the NATO membership bids of Sweden and Finland. 

Meanwhile, staunch Assad regime-backer Russia, at a time when it is facing serious pressure from the West, will likely abstain from sabotaging its cordial relations with Turkey, it added.

As the war rages in Ukraine, Erdoğan appears determined to secure what he calls Turkey’s safety by destroying northern Syria’s Kurdish-controlled areas, according to Balanche.

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