7 June, 01:43 PM

Ukraine is the reason why Russia allows Turkey to dominate in northern Syria

Ihor Semyvolos

Association for Middle East Studies director

The Russian invasion of Ukraine and the Ukrainian resilience in the face of the aggressor have created situations that were quite unimaginable before.

According to (Turkish President Recep Tayyip) Erdogan’s official statements, Turkey has been conducting “a special operation countering Kurdish terrorist organizations” in northern Syria.

If you look at the plans of the Turkish Armed Forces and the Syrian National Army (affiliated with the Turks), we are talking about the following areas: on one hand, Turkish forces established a security zone along the northern border. Back in 2019, Turkey was already planning to do so. But due to the circumstances at the time, they were unable to complete the case and seized only part of the territory they claimed in the north.

Now we are talking about a 30-kilometer zone. Most of it was taken over by Assadists and Russians. This is one of the directions. And now Turkish forces plan to take Tell Rifaat and Manbij - cities on the right bank of the Euphrates River. They are controlled by the Kurds, but not only them, because there are units of the Syrian army there also.

Turkey managed to start its special operation only after Russians withdrew their troops from this region as they needed the resources in Ukraine.

Previously, the Russians and the Turks had reached an agreement on joint control over the lands of the northern part of Syria. Obviously, the agreement is no longer functional, so the Turks feel they have been freed from its obligations.

Most experts and military observers think that Russians would not do anything to help their Syrian allies in this situation, while, Syrians at the very least, are trying to send their additional troops to these regions. Whether the Syrians are ready to resist the Turks is also a mystery.

This was one of the reasons why Erdogan opposed Finland’s and Sweden’s aspirations to join NATO.

At one time, in 2019, Finland and Sweden imposed sanctions against Turkey after its invasion of Syria.

Erdogan's current position is an attempt to play out this situation against the background of his new offensive on Syrian territory.

Turkey gets its window of opportunity, given by the Russian full-scale invasion of Ukraine.

Ukraine’s strong resistance to Russian aggression has made an unlikely situation happen.

 A year ago, it was hard to imagine a new Turkish offensive in Syria.  Back then it seemed to have entered a stalemate, though I understand the motivation of Turkish forces. They wanted to radically change the ethnic composition of northern Syria.

Their key goal is to populate the 30-kilometer zone they now control with Syrian refugees living in Turkey and thus to create a security zone. This will allow them to break the continuum of Kurdish settlements between Kurds from Syria and Kurds from Turkey.

A year ago, these plans were virtually impossible. But now, when the Russians need all of their resources in Ukraine (there is unconfirmed information that the Syrians are fighting in Severodonetsk now), it is clear the Turks have an opportunity.

Moreover, it seems that there is a clear agreement between the Turks and the Russians on this Syrian operation - the Russians are not interfering. For this, the Turks trade their conditional neutrality.

Now the Turks will use every opportunity to strengthen their position.

We are watching their active mediation efforts on Ukrainian grain. They are also trying to continue working to find a settlement and use Turkey as a venue for negotiations.  So, the Turks are actively using their advantages and the fact that Russia, at least in this situation, needs Turkey.

Russia will now look for any way to prevent an increase in the anti-Russian front. And in this case, such maneuvers by Turkey are seen by Moscow as a kind of hope that this can be achieved.

The Turks will negotiate until the last moment, no matter what. This is a nation that loves to negotiate and bargain for better positions. It doesn't always work out, the "break off" is possible.  But in this case, the Turks are lucky - the situation is in their favor.

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