Turkey’s ruling party sees recent battlefield and electoral gains as vindicating its hardline policies toward the PKK. But these same policies fuel the Kurdish grievances that keep the fighting going. Ankara would thus be wise to consider exploring ways of winding down the destructive conflict.
Originally published in Valdai
Military operations against Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) reduced in intensity in country’s south east and northern Iraq, relations soured with U.S. over further sanctions, and were strained with Russia over Idlib escalation. Fatalities in PKK conflict remained low; security forces focused operations in Tunceli province in south east and maintained air raids and land operations against PKK militants in northern Iraq. Govt sustained efforts to criminalise pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP). Besides continued arrests/detentions of HDP officials and members, eight more trustees were appointed to HDP-run municipalities during month (32 out of 69 municipalities HDP won in March 2019 are now run by trustees). Cooperation continued with Russia in north east (NE) Syria, but was strained over escalation in north west (NW): Turkish defence ministry 8 Dec announced deal with Russia to connect areas under control of Turkish-backed Syrian forces to Syrian regime-controlled power plant and demilitarise M4 highway across northern Syria, while Turkish forces continued joint patrols with Russian military units in NE Syria. Ankara reacted harshly to intensified regime and Russian military operations in Syria’s NW which displaced thousands. The fourteenth round of Syria talks with Turkey, Russia and Iran was held in Kazakhstan 10 Dec (see Syria). Relations with U.S deteriorated as U.S. Congress 17 Dec passed National Defense Authorization Act banning transfer of U.S. F-35 fighter jets to Turkey. Senate 12 Dec passed previously blocked resolution recognising mass killings of Armenians in Ottoman Empire as genocide. President Erdoğan 15 Dec threatened to shut down İncirlik Air Base and Kürecik Radar Station used by U.S and NATO forces. Govt continued crackdown on Islamic State (ISIS) networks; police detained over 100 suspected ISIS-linked individuals in Dec including Turkish and foreign nationals. Relations with EU still strained particularly over Cyprus/East Med gas drilling. Following controversial maritime border deal between Turkey and Libya’s Govt of National Accord (GNA) in Nov, parliamentary debate took place 30 Dec on bill that (if approved 2 Jan) would authorise Turkey to send troops to Libya in support of GNA (see Cyprus and Libya).
Gulf states are competing for influence in the Horn of Africa to control the Red Sea, transposing internal rivalries onto a fragile region. Horn governments should increase their bargaining power with their powerful neighbours, who should recognise the risks their policies pose to regional security.
Turkey hosts 3.6 million Syrian refugees, half of whom are under eighteen. Despite European aid, tensions are rising as the country strains to accommodate the influx. The answer is smarter integration policies aimed particularly at meeting the needs of vulnerable youth.
Much of north-eastern Syria has been safe during the civil war. But in the event of U.S. military withdrawal, a mad scramble for control could be unleashed. Washington and Moscow should help their respective allies in Syria reach a decentralisation deal for the area.
Rivalry persists between Russia and Turkey in their shared neighbourhood of the Black Sea and the South Caucasus. But Moscow-Ankara relations have warmed overall. Building on their wider rapprochement, the two powers can work together to tamp down flare-ups of regional conflicts.
Ahead of Turkey’s presidential and parliamentary elections on 24 June, opinion polls suggest a tighter race than many anticipated. The country’s Kurds could be kingmakers, prompting politicians of different stripes to court their votes and opening much-needed debate about longstanding Kurdish demands.
The quarrel between Gulf monarchies has spilled into Somalia, with the fragile state now caught between the rival interests of Qatar and the United Arab Emirates. The competition has already aggravated intra-Somali disputes. All sides should take a step back before these tensions mount further.
L'EI constitue toujours une menace qui pourrait métastaser si les FDS voient leur attention et leurs ressources détournées [...] au profit d'une bataille défensive contre la Turquie.
[By deciding to withdraw its troops from North East Syria] the United States just threw away the last leverage it had.
Even if efforts to create a 'buffer zone' [in Northern Syria] succeed, the underlying source of tension will remain and with it, the potential for a Turkish military response to Ankara's perceived YPG threat.
Today's news that Turkey's suspended the readmission agreement with the EU will not make much practical difference for either Brussels or Ankara nor for refugees/migrants.
Turkey has only one interest, which is to defeat the YPG. So that is what it is going to do.
The sense of public spaces [in Turkey] becoming more unsafe is fed by the tendency of criminal networks to use Syrian men and women for theft, prostitution drug sales and the like, and Syrians are blamed for disruption of public order and safety.
Crisis Group's Middle East & North Africa Program Director Joost Hiltermann participated in the 2018 Körber Policy Game, designed to explore possible outcomes in the event of a crisis between Turkey and the West in Syria. While the exercise underscored many of the Syrian conflict's complexities, it also revealed that a strong desire by stakeholders to find common ground can help overcome them.
Originally published in Russia File
Crisis Group's Europe & Central Asia Program Director Magdalena Grono talks about the relations between Russia and Turkey as they reflect on the Black Sea and the South Caucasus.