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Russia in Syria: Air Strikes Pose Twin Threat to Turkey by Keeping Assad in Power and Strengthening Kurdish Threat
The country is finding itself increasingly at odds with the US, Russia and Iran over developments in the conflict
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Russian planes carried out 71 sorties and 118 air strikes against Islamic fighters in Syria over the past two days compared to just one air strike by the US-led coalition – and this single strike, against a mortar position, was the first for four days.

The Russian air campaign in Syria is far more intense than the US-led attempt to contain the “Islamic State” (Isis) that has focused on helping the Syrian Kurds and attacking Isis-controlled oil facilities in eastern Syria. Countries affected by the Syrian conflict sense that its nature is changing and are seeking new strategies to take account of this.

The US says it will increase the number of its air strikes and possibly make limited use of special forces to target Isis leaders. The problem for the US is that, aside from Syrian-Kurdish Peoples’ Protection Units (YPG), which number about 25,000 fighters, it does not have an effective partner on the ground in Syria capable of identifying and giving the coordinates of targets to attack. Russia is providing an air force for the Syrian army, the largest military force in Syria and one which, unlike the Kurds, is not confined to one corner of the country.

Turkey is seeking an effective way to respond to two developments in Syria this year that are much against its interests. One is the start of Russian air strikes in support of President Bashar al-Assad on 30 September which makes Turkey’s policy of removing the Syrian leader, even if he is to be allowed to stay for a transition period, look unrealistic. The Russian presence also makes any direct Turkish military intervention increasingly risky.

All attention in Turkey is on the parliamentary elections on 1 November, but last Sunday there was an ominous clash in Tal Abyad, a town on the Syrian-Kurdish border captured by the YPG from Isis in June, in which Turkish forces twice opened fire with machine guns on the Kurdish paramilitaries. Nobody was injured, but the Turkish Prime Minister, Ahmet Davutoglu, confirmed that the Turkish army had targeted the YPG. He said that Turkey would not allow the Syrian Kurdish force “to go west of the Euphrates and that we would hit it the moment it did. We hit it twice.”

Although it is not playing much of a role in the election, Turkey’s policy towards the war in Syria has been a complete failure. Its aim was to get rid of Mr Assad and his regime, but both are still power. Even more seriously, whatever Ankara’s intentions at the start of the conflict in 2011, it did not dream that four years later the Syrian Kurds, 10 per cent of the Syrian population, would have established a de facto state they call Rojava in north-east Syria which runs along half of Turkey’s 550-mile Syrian Kurdish border.

Furthermore, the mini-state is tightly controlled by the PYD, the Syrian branch of the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) with whom the Turkish army has been fighting since 1984.


As uprisings overthrew or destabilised regimes across the Arab world in 2011, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, then Prime Minister, and his Justice and Development Party, imagined that what was lauded in the West as their successful “moderate Islamist” government would be the model for incoming regimes everywhere.

But this never happened and today Turkey sees the Syrian Kurds – controlling a swathe of territory between the Tigris and the Euphrates – expanding under the cover of US air strikes along its southern frontier. Hence, Mr Davutoglu’s warning against the YPG crossing the Euphrates and seizing Jarabulus, the last Isis-held border crossing with Turkey, and then pushing on to link up with the Kurdish enclave at Afrin.

This is a serious threat to Turkey. Its access to Syria and ability to influence events there is becoming more limited. Professor Serat Guvenc, of the Department of Foreign Relations at Kadir Has University in Istanbul, says that, if this happens, “Turkey will be insulated from the Sunni Arab Middle East”.

Cross-border military intervention by the Turkish armed forces might prevent the YPG advancing to Afrin, but Professor Guvenc, while denying any professional military knowledge, says this would require an army corps or perhaps 35,000 soldiers. It is also a move that would be opposed by the US and Russia.

Turkey is a member of Nato and over Syria is aligned with Saudi Arabia, Qatar and the Sunni states of the Gulf. But it is increasingly at odds with Russia and Iran, two powers in its near neighbourhood, and has serious differences with the US over its Syrian policy.

A shooting war with the Syrian Kurds would be bound to fuel the conflict between the Turkish state and its Kurdish minority. Few Turkish voters know or care about the failure of Turkey’s policy in Syria, but it is already having a calamitous effect on their lives.

(Republished from The Independent by permission of author or representative)
• Category: Foreign Policy • Tags: Kurds, Russia, Syria, Turkey 
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  1. Avery says:

    [Russia in Syria: Air Strikes Pose Twin Threat to Turkey by Keeping Assad in Power and Strengthening Kurdish Threat]

    What a strange title.

    Turkey, a criminal, genocidal, unnatural state – which does not belong in the region at all – is a threat to every country in the region.

    How can indigenous people, Syrians, be a so-called “threat” to nomadic invaders from Uyguristan who are occupying the lands of others – after committing Genocide and wiping out the indigenous peoples.

    Proposed title: [Russia in Syria prevents nomad Turks from threatening Syria and carrying out a plan to exterminate its Christian and Alawite minorities with a new, improved Genocide.]

    • Replies: @matt
    , @pB
  2. matt says:

    You forgot to call Cockburn a CIA agent. Obviously that title was chosen by the CIA for psyops purposes.

  3. pB says:

    “Turkey, a criminal, genocidal, unnatural state”

    wow, ok that was over 600 years ago,

    fun fact, the uygurs were originally christian.

    more fun facts,

    the word kurd, is a persian word for nomads.

    more fun facts,

    the Turks could never have taken Anatolia if the Christians where not killing each other over the schism.

    • Replies: @Avery
  4. Never explained–why USA allowed Turkey to become part of NATO ( North Atlantic ?)
    jUSA had a sinister plan–Use turkey as future thug in the area to topall Iran Syria. If any country dared to attack Turkey—-all NATO countries would come to it’s defense. America is mentally sick deranged nation of evil :^(

  5. Avery says:

    {that was over 600 years ago}

    more fun facts: the Genocide of Christians of Asia Minor – Armenians, Assyrians, Pontic Greeks – was between 1915-1923: 100 years ago, not 600.

    more fun facts:
    The Dersim massacre of Alevi Kurds by Turks was in 1938/1939: up to 90,000 massacred; shot, cut to pieces, gassed, burnt alive in caves,…the usual genocidal Turks SOP.

    more fun facts:
    Until very recently Kurds were called “Mountain Turks” by Turks to erase their Kurdish identity. Kurds were arrested and jailed for speaking Kurdish in public.

    more fun facts:
    Kurds are largely a tribal people in character at this time. They are in the process of becoming a nation. They may or may not be nomadic, but if they are, they are nomadic inside their own territories. They did not travel 1000s miles and invade somebody else’s lands.

    Turkey was a criminal, genocidal, unnatural state and still is.

    more fun facts:
    Shocked by the 13% electoral win of Kurds, the criminal, fascist Turk state organized two terrorist bombings of peaceful Kurd demonstrations murdering about 200 young Kurds and maiming hundreds more.
    The idea being to provoke Kurds into violence, so AKP and Erdogan could use it to gain absolute majority, and suppress Kurds’ growing political power.

    Not 600 years ago: in 2015.

    • Replies: @pB
  6. […] “Russia in Syria: Air Strikes Pose Twin Threat to Turkey by Keeping Assad in Power and Strengthening Kurdish Threat”  Patrick Cockburn is almost the sole mainstream journalist with anything interesting to say, but there is always something ‘off’ about his pieces. […]

  7. pB says:

    “…unnatural state – which does not belong in the region at all”

    the formation of modern turkey and the coming of the turks are two separate events.

    killing and suppressing minorities cultures and languages is how you make a modern nation state, have you not been paying attention.

    i don’t really know what this unnatural state is?

    what is a natural state? one that is ruled by trees?

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