There is an air of déjà vu in the ranks of the Turkish army. Thursday, May 26, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s proposal to carry out an intrusion into northern Syria is validated by the National Security Council. The operation is underway. No start date for the offensive has been announced. The authorities are content with a press release published in the wake of the dubbing of the Security Council. On the document transmitted to the national and international media, it can be read: “Existing and new operations to be carried out aim to rid our southern borders of the terrorist threat.” The words recall those used in the past by Recep Tayyip Erdogan. The Syrian dossier follows a specific pattern…
The Turkish army has been engaged, since May 2019, in northern Iraq, in order to dislodge the troops of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), an autonomist political formation considered terrorist in the eyes of Ankara. At war for almost forty years with the Kurdish independence movement, the central power intends more generally to stem the claim that animates the Kurdish minority. And the latter lives, mainly, in the south of the country, near the border with Iraq and therefore Syria.
What to fear for the Turkish state, concerned about the unaltered national cohesion behind, the rallying of the Kurdish population to a movement like the PKK. To avoid this, he intends to push back the independence movements ever further. His new target: the Syrian Kurdish fighters of the People’s Protection Units (YPG), another movement favorable to the establishment of a Kurdish state, located in Syria.
For this, Recep Tayyip Erdogan has a project: “to extend the security zone”. The 30 km long area already acquired by the Turkish forces following its repeated interventions on the soil of its neighbor since the return of Bashar el-Assad to power in Syria could be extended. The ambition of the authoritarian leader is to connect this strip of land to the city of Kamechliyé, in the East, where the Russian army, a supporting power in Syria, has an air base.
A historic ally of the United States, Turkey has been playing a troubled game with Russia for several years. Russian forces have been engaged since 2020 on the Syrian-Turkish border to ensure the departure of all Kurdish forces in the region. Since then, the agreement between Ankara and Moscow has continued. The Head of State promised to proceed “step by step in other regions”.
For several weeks and the extension of the war in Ukraine, the Turkish head of state appears very active on the international scene. A member of NATO, Turkey has a formidable weapon: it can block the entry of any new country into the military organization. She showed her opposition to the entry of Sweden and Finland in the wake of the announcement of the intention of the two countries to join the military organization. The position irritates the United States, delights Russia.
By causing harm within the transatlantic organization, Turkey knows that it is considerably strengthening its cooperation with the Kremlin. She is also betting on the fact that the United States is less observant of her dream of expansion in Syria. The country of Joe Biden supporting the membership of Sweden and Finland in NATO. Recep Tayyip Erdogan has understood the equation perfectly and is trying to place himself at the center of it.
It is above all a question of survival for President Erdogan since he based his authority on the figure of the strong man. The Kurdish threat was brandished at several turning points in his mandate, which began in 2003 as head of the country. In difficulty on the domestic scene, Recep Tayyip Erdogan intends to mobilize national sentiment again when he does not approach the ballot for the next presidential election, which will take place in 2023, in the shoes of the overwhelming favorite. The international scene then appears as a stepping stone to assert its domestic intentions. It is also a way for him to ignore the economic difficulties facing Turkey. A maneuver that can be summed up in five words: external operation, internal message.