Turkey’s incursion into Syria further complicates an already tragic situation, drastically reducing any hopes of ending the five-and-a-half-year conflict and inflicting further misery on the country’s civilian population.
The message from Ankara is that the sole aim is to push Kurdish YPG forces away from Turkey’s borders in order to reduce the chances of them contributing to a Kurdish uprising in its own territory. While this may be true, there are strong indications that Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan may go far beyond a simple policing action.
Buoyed by the wave of support he has received at home in the wake of the failed military coup, Erdogan is using some of his political capital to drive deep into Syria in order to establish a permanent buffer zone between the YPG operations there and the separatist movement in Turkey’s south-eastern areas.
Ankara would have no interest in a complete annexation of the territory, as the YPG is claiming, as that would involve having to take responsibility for any civilians remaining there. The more likely aim would be a permanent area of military occupation where its forces would have a free hand to confront the YPG, which Turkey has long regarded as a terrorist group.
This, of course, has angered the United States, which sees the YPG as a valuable ground asset in the war against Islamic State and other terrorist groups, but Washington will not go too far in its condemnation.
Erdogan has the ability to tear up an agreement that would result in tens of thousands of refugees pouring into Europe, destabilising its institutions and maybe even threatening the European Union and NATO.
Then there is the possibility of a rapprochement with Russia. On the face of it this seems unlikely as Turkey has repeatedly called for the ousting of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad while Russia is Assad’s staunch ally. However, for Erdogan nothing is more important than preventing the establishment of a Kurdish State on Syrian soil.
The incursion has drawn protests from Assad, But Ankara knows these can be safely ignored. Territorial integrity no longer exists in Syria and whatever emerges from the conflict will look nothing like the nation that existed before 2011.