05/25/2022, 12.08
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Erdogan targets Syria to blackmail NATO and strengthen domestic power

The Turkish president announces an operation to shore up the 'buffer zone' across the border. Details discussed at a Security Council meeting scheduled for tomorrow. The operation as a bargaining chip for the green light for Sweden and Finland to join the Atlantic Alliance. And to close ranks ahead of the vote in 2023. 

Istanbul (AsiaNews) - President Recep Tayyip Erdogan intends to launch a military operation in Syrian territory shortly, to expand the so-called "buffer zone" along the southern border. Announced in recent days, the offensive has raised more than one perplexity over the timing and methods; however, it reflects the Turkish leader's deep conviction that he will not receive vetoes from his Atlantic Alliance partners.

Moreover, Ankara's green light is essential for Sweden and Finland's entry - in an anti-Russian move - into NATO, which is being examined in recent weeks and which is being opposed by Turkey because the two Nordic nations would be hosting "terrorists from the PKK," the Kurdish Workers' Party. 

Speaking at a government meeting on 23 May, Erdogan said the aim of the operation is to finalise the creation of the 30 km-wide area, considered essential for the defence of its borders. 'We will soon take new measures,' he said, 'regarding the incomplete parts of the project [...] along our southern border'. 

While giving no further details on the modalities and timing of the operation, he added that "the operation will begin after Turkish military, intelligence and security forces have completed their preparations". "We will discuss this operation in detail," he concluded, "at the Security Council meeting" that is scheduled for tomorrow, 26 May. Earlier he had announced his intention to send one million Syrians back across the border before the elections, welcomed in the name of the common 'Muslim brotherhood' and now dumped as a burden, at a time of deep socio-economic crisis that casts doubt on his re-election in 2023.

At the moment, there are no official statements from the Syrian Ministry of Foreign Affairs or from the Damascus leadership for a possible aggression within its territory. Mouths are also sealed in Washington, which is busy on several fronts from the Russian invasion in Ukraine to the entry of Sweden and Finland into NATO, to the tensions with China in the Asia-Pacific region. In the past, the Turkish army has launched four major military offensives in northern Syria: the first, renamed 'Operation Euphrates Shield' in 2016; followed by 'Operation Olive Branch' in 2018; the following year, in 2019, Operation 'Source of Peace'; fourth and last in 2020, Operation 'Spring Shield' during the early stages of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Since 2016, the Turkish army has been carrying out regular military operations on Syrian territory against the Kurdish YPG militia, which is considered a terrorist organisation (but, unlike the latter, not by the West) on a par with the Pkk. Ankara has also intensified its air raids in Iraqi Kurdistan, striking Christian villages on several occasions, causing casualties and serious damage to economic activities, homes and places of worship.

Analysts and experts emphasise that Erdogan's proclamations have a twofold objective: on the one hand, to gain an advantage from the granting of clearance for Stockholm and Helsinki to join NATO. On the other hand, from an internal perspective, to armour the support of the nationalist wing for his now 20-year power. In fact, already in the past, cross-border military operations have increased consensus and in some ways favoured his victory at the polls.

Against a backdrop of silence and expectation, among the few critical and concerned voices are those of the Syrian Kurds, whose military factions have proved essential in the past in the fight against the Islamic State (IS, formerly Isis), thanks also to US support. Commenting on Erdogan's words, the leaders of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF, which also includes the YPG) accuse Ankara of wanting to "destabilise the region".

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