Turkey is slowly pushing their way across the Syrian border. However, their further actions will be faced with consequences if Turkey continues its advancement.
Since the weekend, Turkey has unleashed its 155-millimeter heavy guns across the border with Syria. The targets are Kurdish forces, whose recent advance is a key part of the Russian plan to extend President Bashar al-Assad’s control over Syria. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Wednesday refused to stop the shelling and said Turkey was acting in self-defense.
“Both Russia and Turkey are looking to position for strategic advantage,” Tim Ash, head of emerging-market strategy at Nomura in London, said by e-mail on Monday. “The risk is of an actual Russo-Turkish military clash, which would then threaten to draw in NATO.”
The U.S. shares Turkey’s desire to halt the Assad advance, and its suspicion of Russian intentions. But on the subject of Syria’s Kurds, there’s a sharp difference.
Turkey says its attacks on the Kurds were in retaliation for cross-border shooting, and most analysts say it’s unlikely to carry out a major incursion that would put its troops under Russian fire. But the risk of an “accidental” clash is increasing, according to Nihat Ali Ozcan at the Economic Policy Research Foundation in Ankara.
The once-friendly relationship between Ankara and Moscow has deteriorated since Russia entered the Syrian war on Assad’s side last September. The rebels backed by Turkey and other U.S. allies, including Saudi Arabia, have been withering under Russian bombing that has helped Assad regain territory.
For Erdogan, two threats are unfolding simultaneously. In the short term, a Russian-backed Kurdish advance could cut supplies to the rebel groups Turkey’s been backing for years, increasing the chance that Assad will recapture Aleppo and survive in power. That would be the latest blow to Erdogan’s policy in the Middle East, a region of economic importance for Turkey: he’s already lost allies in Egypt and Iraq.
In the longer term, Turkey is wary of territorial gains for the Syrian Kurds that could eventually deliver them a state of their own, and fuel similar aspirations among Turkey’s Kurdish minority. Erdogan says Russian airstrikes are allowing the Kurds to drive ethnic Turkmens and Arabs away from the border areas, deepening the refugee crisis.
The U.S. appears to be backing diplomacy rather than military escalation, though the truce it brokered last week with Russia and other powers has run into trouble even before it was due to take effect. Obama told reporters on Tuesday that the cease-fire probably won’t work “if Russia continues indiscriminate bombing.”
Russia has been carrying out military exercises in the Black Sea area that are “a signal to Turkey not to stage a provocation,” according to Igor Korotchenko, director of the Center for Analysis of World Arms Trade in Moscow.
“We have enough forces to bring Erdogan back to his senses if Turkey forces us to act militarily,” Korotchenko said.
Turkey’s actions on the border are defensive steps to avoid a war, Davutoglu said on Tuesday. A day earlier, he denied reports that Turkish troops had crossed into Syria.
If Turkey takes further action to counter the Kurds and Russia, he said, “things could quickly escalate into a greater confrontation which nobody in their correct mind would want.”