Ankara counts itself a victor after Syria incursion

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Days after Turkey defied a global outcry to push forward with an offensive in opposition to Kurdish militants in northern Syria, Ankara was dealing with stress on a number of fronts.

Donald Trump was threatening to “swiftly destroy” the Turkish economic system with US sanctions as he confronted mounting criticism from inside his Republican occasion for initially clearing the way in which for the operation. European powers condemned the incursion and suspended arms gross sales to Ankara. And a sudden deal struck between the Kurds and Damascus meant that Syrian regime forces, supported by Russia, have been quickly advancing north into a area the place they’d not set foot for years, placing them on a potential collision course with Turkish troops.

But, on Friday, a day after the US brokered a five-day ceasefire to pause the offensive, Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan minimize a relaxed determine as he spoke in Istanbul, hailing a “new page” in Ankara’s relations with Washington and proclaiming a “victory against terrorism”.

He had cause to be assured. Under the deal reached late on Thursday after practically 5 hours of talks between Mr Erdogan and Mike Pence, US vice-president, the Trump administration handed Turkey’s chief an final result he has lengthy pressed Washington to just accept.

Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan talking in Istanbul on Friday © AP

As a outcome, Ankara can now rely itself a victor following a tumultuous week that has underlined the notion that the US is disengaging from the area, whereas additionally strengthening Syrian president Bashar al-Assad’s hand and reinforcing Russia’s place because the powerbroker within the nation.

“Turkey got what it wanted from the US,” mentioned Emile Hokayem on the International Institute for Strategic Studies. “What happened [with the US-Turkey deal] was a farce, not real negotiation because the US is an exiting power. It was a de facto acceptance of the fait accompli and of the new balance of power in the northern Middle East.”

Crucially for Mr Erdogan, the so-called protected zone cleared of Kurdish militants that Turkey has lengthy desired alongside a part of its southern border is ready to be created, whereas the specter of US sanctions on Ankara has been lifted — for now.

Under the US-Turkey deal, the Kurdish-dominated Syrian Democratic Forces, which had been armed and educated by the US to combat in opposition to the jihadis of Isis, has 120 hours to drag again from the border area, surrender its heavy weapons and dismantle its fortifications.

Sinan Ulgen, chairman of the Istanbul-based Edam think-tank, described it as a “win-win” for Turkey and the Trump administration.

“The failure of an agreement would have brought additional sanctions by the US, a reaction by Turkey and an escalation,” he mentioned. “Also, this [deal] is the strong signal that the US partnership with [Kurdish forces], which has been such an irritant in the bilateral relationship, has come to an end.”

The US determination to arm the SDF had put a extreme pressure on relations with Ankara. Turkey considers the group an extension of the Kurdistan Workers’ occasion [PKK] which has fought a greater than three-decade insurgency in opposition to Turkey.

Mr Erdogan noticed the chance to launch the offensive in opposition to the SDF after Mr Trump offered the inexperienced gentle by withdrawing US troops from the border space following a phone name between the 2 leaders. The US president then introduced that he would pull all 1,000 US troops out of Syria.

These choices triggered a uncommon bipartisan outcry from each Republicans and Democrats who accused Mr Trump of abandoning a US ally, the Kurds, whereas emboldening the Assad regime and its overseas backers, Russia and Iran.

Map showing current situation in Turkey and Syria

Indeed, a lot will now depend upon talks between Mr Erdogan and Mr Putin scheduled for Tuesday, simply because the 120-hour deadline agreed below the US deal will expire.

“Tuesday is important for what we will do in the safe zone. We have no intention of remaining [in Syria],” Mr Erdogan mentioned on Friday. He added that he had no objection to Syrian forces taking on areas beforehand managed by the SDF, so long as the border areas have been cleared of Kurdish fighters.

Mr Ulgen at Edam mentioned that such shifting dynamics have been more likely to speed up re-engagement between Ankara, which has been the primary supporter of the Syrian opposition in the course of the nation’s eight-year civil conflict, and Damascus.

“Moscow’s game plan is to push Turkey towards recognition of the [Assad] regime, in return of which the regime will undertake responsibility for ensuring that this piece of territory is not to be used for exporting terrorist activities to Turkey,” he mentioned.

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Konstantin Kosachev, chairman of the overseas affairs committee in Russia’s higher home of parliament, described the ceasefire deal as “a chance if not to stop, then at least to suspend, the use of force”.

“While the very fact of the cessation of the military operation, of course, is encouraging, what will happen next is not completely clear yet,” he mentioned. “And it will clearly not be decided by Washington.”

In north-east Syria on Friday, the ceasefire remained fragile, with the SDF accusing Turkey of continuous to shell Kurdish positions, killing 5 of its fighters.

SDF officers had instructed that the group would settle for the ceasefire earlier than accusing Turkey of violating it. Kurdish militants have been left weakened and marginalised by the occasions of the previous two weeks.

Nawaf Xelil, director of the Center for Kurdish Studies, a UK-based think-tank, mentioned the deal that agreed to the creation of a 30km deep buffer zone “legitimises Turkey’s occupation” in northern Syria.

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