Photo: Reuters

Syrian Kurds ‘cut a deal’ with Damascus and Moscow to confront Turkey

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan declared over the weekend that Ankara will not stop its Syria operation “Peace Spring,” irrespective of growing international condemnations and threats of global retaliatory sanctions.

Speaking at a dinner in Istanbul, President Erdogan underscored that the Turkish military will persist, until the Kurdish YPG and PYD militias, which Ankara views as extensions of the internationally-recognized terror group PKK, withdraws from northern Syria. In his words: “We will never stop this step we have taken against the PYD/YPG that even the Syrian regime do not welcome. We will not stop it no matter what anyone says. We’re receiving threats from right and left, saying stop this progress. I told Mr. (Donald) Trump as well as others. I told you to stop them if you ever will, but you didn’t. Please translate this part accurately: Now, we are cutting our own umbilical cord. We will not backtrack anymore. ” Erdogan further declared that “Our fight will continue until all terrorists move further to the south of the 32 kilometers (20 miles) long border that Mr. Trump has mentioned. They will abandon this area.”

Turkey does not stand alone as the target of criticism. U.S. President Donald Trump has been subject to vocal rebuke by rivals and supporters alike, and repeatedly forced to defend the withdrawal of American troops from Syria; over perceptions that his decision paved the way for the Turkish military’s offensive against the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces. Speaking at the annual Values Voter Summit political conference in Washington for American social conservative activists and elected officials, President Trump insisted that Turkey has the right to secure its southern border with Syria. He also attempted to defend his decision by insisting that the United States should not be expected to guard the borders of other nations at a time when it cannot protect its own. Trump said: “Let them have their borders. But I don’t think our soldiers should be there for the next 50 years guarding a border between Turkey and Syria when we can’t guard our own borders at home. I don’t think so.”

President Trump also made use of his address to reiterate Washington’s red-lines vis-à-vis the Turkish operation by underscoring that Ankara must meet its commitments including the protection of religious minorities, or else face America’s wrath in the form of economic sanctions.

Meanwhile U.S. Secretary of Defense Mark Esper revealed that Turkey is likely to expand its attack further south, beyond its initial self-proclaimed objective. In an exclusive interview on the Face the Nation program aired by CBS News on Sunday, the top American defense official also noted that the Turkish decision lead the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces to negotiate an agreement with the Syrian regime in Damascus and its Russian patrons. According to the top U.S. diplomat: “it is a very terrible situation over there. A situation caused by the Turks, by President Erdogan, despite our opposition they decided to make this incursion into Syria. And in this point of time, in the last 24 hours, we have learned that they likely intend to expand their attack further South as originally planned and to the west – and so we know that is happening. We also have learned during the last 24 hours that the Syrian forces in – I’m sorry the Kurdish forces, the SDF—are looking to ‘cut a deal,’ if you will, with the Syrians and the Russians to counterattack against the Turks in the North.”

The reports of an imminent agreement were realized late last night, when the Kurdish-led administration announced that the Syrian army will deploy along the length of its border with Turkey and support the Kurdish-led forces in countering Ankara’s invasion.

The former U.S.-backed forces also released a statement confirming a pact with Damascus to reconquer territories that held by Turkish-backed proxy armies since March 2018, including the predominantly Kurdish border town of Afrin.

As part of its deployment to the north, Syrian troops entered the town of Tel Tamer in the al-Hasakah Governorate, where residents of the town welcomed the soldiers with open arms. One unnamed villager told Reuters that he was overjoyed to bring out a poster of Syrian President Bashar al Assad he had long been hiding. After thanking God for the return of the Syrian Arab Army, he expressed his hope that Turkish President Erdogan would be punished for the offensive, saying “may his house be destroyed, God willing.”

It is important to mention that similar to other cities, towns and villages in the al-Hasakah Governorate, Tel Tamer was once predominately home to Christian Assyrians, who were forced to flee after the area was first conquered by the Free Syrian Army in November of 2012, and later the Islamic State. Today, only 20 percent of the town’s population is Christian, while the remaining 80 percent has been replaced by Muslim-Kurds and Arab Bedouin.

Meanwhile Russian President Vladimir Putin urged all countries that have “illegally” entered Syria to immediately leave the territory. Speaking to Arab reporters ahead of his first historic visit to Saudi Arabia the Russian leader vowed to also withdraw his own nation’s forces from Syria once they are no longer needed. During a televised interview from Sochi, Putin stated that “Everyone who is illegitimately on the territory of any state, in this case the Syrian Arab Republic, must leave this territory.” After saying, “This applies to all states,” he added, “And if the future legitimate Syrian government [determines] that Russian military presence is no longer needed – this concerns the Russian Federation also. Naturally.”

Putin’s remarks came just several days after Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov revealed that the Kremlin is in close coordination regarding the developments in Syria. He added that Moscow is calling on Ankara and Damascus to regulate security concerns based on mutual agreements enacted prior to the outbreak of the Syrian Civil War in 2011. This morning Turkish President Erdogan announced that the Syrian deployment in Kurdish-held territories is a positive development that had been orchestrated by the Russians, although he nevertheless insisted that Ankara’s offensive will continue unhindered. “There are many rumors at the moment,” said Erdogan, stating that “However, especially through the embassy and with the positive approach of Russia in Kobani, it appears there won’t be any issues.” He then went on to say that with regard to the city of Manbij, “just as we have made our decision, we are at the stage of implementing it.”

French President Emmanuel Macron held consultations with visiting-German Chancellor Angela Merkel in Paris, over prospective adoption of a unified European approach toward the Turkish offensive in Syria. During a joint press conference at the Elysee Palace, the French leader revealed that they spoke together with both their American and Turkish counterparts, during which they underscored the need to end all hostilities, saying “The Turkish offensive in Syria is obviously at the heart of our concerns. In the last hours, both of us had the opportunity to speak with President (Donald) Trump, and with President (Recep Tayyip) Erdogan, and to send clear messages and our common desire that this offensive ends.”

German Chancellor Angela Merkel noted that in her conversation with President Erdogan, she conveyed Berlin’s concerns regarding humanitarian implications of the Turkish offensive. As such, the German leader demanded an end to the Turkish offensive, regardless of its voiced security concerns. According to her: “Today I spoke with President Erdogan for one hour. Of course, we have to consider Turkey’s security interests, but I believe, and the German government also believes, that we have to bring an end to this Turkish offensive because of humanitarian reasons. ”

Responding to Merkel’s comments from Istanbul; President Erdogan revealed that he scolded her for Berlin’s support of the Kurdish-led forces – and in light of that – he asked her if Germany thinks it is legitimate to support a militia over its NATO-ally. In his words: “Shortly before I also said to Chancellor Merkel, I said ‘your partner in your government, the foreign minister, uses this expression’, how can you explain this? I said ‘tell me something, if we are NATO-allies or not? I wonder if you accept the militia (YPG) to NATO and I did not hear it?”