“The war in Syria is not ending”

On the “sworn” friendship of Turkey with Russia and Ukrainian interest

On January 20, the Turkish Armed Forces launched the Operation Olive Branch in the air and on the ground, targeting the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) and the Islamic State terrorist group in the Afrin District in the northwest of Syria, reports the BBC.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said that this operation would be completed in the near future. Meanwhile, the nation’s Prime Minister Binali Yildirim stated that the military objective was to establish a 30-kilometer “security zone” in Syria, promised to respect the territorial integrity of that country and said that the Kurdish organizations YPG, the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) and the Democratic Union party would be hit until nothing remained of them.

US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson held phone calls on January 20 with his counterparts from both Russia and Turkey and expressed his concern about the situation, reports The New York Times.


Ihor SEMYVOLOS, executive director of the Center for Middle East Studies:

“Turkey has officially announced its intention to execute its right to self-defense, as stated in the UN Charter, and said there are reasons to believe that units being formed on this territory are affiliated with the PKK terrorist organization which is banned in Turkey. This was the main reason for such a step, that is, it is based on the interests of self-defense.

“With regard to coordinating its actions with Russia and the US, on the one hand, Turkey is actively criticizing the US policy of supporting the Kurds, while the US government, on the other hand, is clearly not ready to support the Kurds fully and encourage their political ambitions, such as the creation of an independent Kurdish state or an increase in their weight in the internal Syrian conflict.

“As long as the threat of the Islamic State was clearly present, providing support for the Kurdish units as the most capable and motivated force available was completely justified. In the US, there is no agreement on the future role of the country in this region and the level of cooperation with the Kurds. On the other hand, the US is unlikely to be able to finally break its relationship with Turkey, as, incidentally, is Turkey itself, as it leaves room for negotiations and is interested in the US being neutral at least.

“The Russians are in a rather difficult situation, because, against the backdrop of improving personal relationship between Erdogan and Putin, this operation is a rather unpleasant fact for Russia. On the other hand, the Kremlin was probably unable to respond to it in any real way, that is, to actively oppose it, given that Afrin is an enclave and there is no direct connection with these territories, to say the least. In this situation, spoiling relations with Turkey would ultimately endanger the established peace settlement policy, which the Russians have insisted on for the last year as they are building the Sochi process, and especially against the backdrop of forthcoming negotiations that will take place in Astana in the near future. The Russians need Turkey as a country that will not torpedo their initiatives at least.

“France has taken a firm stance on the issue as well, but here, Turkey can probably easily ignore them as long as its relations with the US can be repaired. Judging by the ongoing dialog, they can be repaired, and there is a lot to discuss.

“As for a forecast of the situation, the following should be noted. One can start a war, but one cannot constantly control it, because new factors and circumstances emerge. For me, the key variable that I cannot fully understand is the level of motivation of the Kurds to defend their positions: are they prepared to actually fight for Afrin, or will they be forced, after all, to retreat to the territory east of Afrin, which they also control. The course of the operation will largely depend on this. For the Turks, it is important that it takes place as rapidly as possible and is bloodless or with minimal losses, as under such circumstances they will already celebrate victory.

“Moreover, in fact, significant territory of northern Syria will then come under the control of Turkey and the Free Syrian Army. And this means, at the very least, that Turkey is strengthening its influence and its positions in negotiations in the format of Turkey-Russia-Iran.”

What conclusions can Ukraine draw from this situation?

“If the circumstances make Turkey a sworn friend of Russia, we still must understand our interest and doggedly work towards it.

“It is also interesting for Ukraine to watch how the Russians are forced to recognize facts on the ground. To a certain extent, we can also apply this strategy. Putin’s regime is a sworn enemy for us and it is even easier for us to do it.

“It is also important to understand the importance of allies and the willingness to listen to them, as well as to reasonably argue our own position to them, to put them under certain circumstances in a situation where they can no longer refuse assistance.

“The Turkish operation in the north of Syria once again shows that the war in Syria is not ending. But at the moment, this operation is bringing the final negotiations closer, as every party is trying to maximize its successes. That is, it is a signal that in the end, all parties will go to a rather obvious and livelier negotiating process. However, Russia is forced to remain a guarantor of the continuing relevance of Bashar Assad’s position in this situation. It is also beneficial for us, because it distracts much attention towards the Syrian theater of war and reduces political and military activity in the Donbas.”