Erdogan’s offensive: Russia betrayed both Kurds and Syrians

Why Moscow does not give a clear assessment of Turkish aggression in the Middle East.

In Syria — there is a new round of war. On October 9, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan announced the launch of Operation Source of Peace on Syrian territory. Its goal is to occupy a 30-kilometer strip from the Euphrates River to the Iraqi border, freeing it from Kurdish formations.


– Our mission is to prevent the creation of a terrorist corridor on our southern border and bring peace to the area, – Erdogan wrote on Twitter. He added that the operation will also help the return of Syrian refugees, the number of which in Turkey exceeds 3 million, but at the same time the troops “will maintain the territorial integrity of Syria.”


Just a few minutes later, the Turkish CNN Turk reported that the US ambassador had been called to the Turkish Foreign Ministry to explain the details of the operation.


For his part, Russian presidential spokesman Dmitry Peskov said that the Turkish leader had warned Vladimir Putin about the start of the operation in advance in a telephone conversation.


On the same day, the Turkish military went on the offensive. According to the Turkish Ministry of Defense, over the course of a day the aviation and artillery of the Turkish armed forces, as well as the Syrian National Army group supported by Ankara, attacked 181 Kurdish targets in northeast Syria.


In the early hours, Turkish troops were limited to air and artillery attacks, but by the evening there were reports of full-fledged ground battles along the entire border east of the Euphrates, including with approaches to Syrian territory.


As a result of the bombing there are dead and wounded. Thus, the leadership of the Kurds told Reuters about the deaths of five civilians and dozens of wounded. Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), including the Kurds, have reported the deaths of three fighters. France Press, citing human rights defenders, reported the deaths of 11 people, of which eight were civilians.


Note, for NATO, the operation in Syria was not unexpected. Ankara warned the alliance about the start of the operation and promised that all its actions would be “adequate and balanced,” said Secretary General of the Alliance Jens Stoltenberg. Nevertheless, the reaction of the international community cannot be called calm.


US President Donald Trump, having barely confirmed to reporters that US troops had left the operation area, promised that he would “destroy the Turkish economy” if Ankara launched an offensive against the Kurds and exterminated them. Trump was supported by US senators: they proposed to impose sanctions against Erdogan and a number of Turkish officials and departments.


Soon Europe joined the indignant chorus. The EU Council called on Turkey to “end unilateral hostilities,” which threaten the fight against the Islamic State and threaten new flows of refugees.


The countries of the Arab world did not stand aside. Thus, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Egypt came up with an initiative to urgently convene the League of Arab States in connection with a “brutal and unacceptable attack on the sovereignty of a fraternal Arab country.”


The culmination was the convening of an emergency meeting of the UN Security Council at the initiative of five members from Europe – France, Britain, Germany, Poland and Belgium.


Erdogan remained calm in this setting. He said Trump’s harsh statements were only intended to reassure the public. The US’s real actions – withdrawal and non-intervention – testify to the real attitude to the situation, he said.


In response, Secretary of State Michael Pompeo told PBS that the US did not give Turkey “green light” for the operation in Syria.


What are the scenarios for the development of events in Syria, what role can Russia play in them?


  • The Americans make a good face with a bad game, – said Mikhail Alexandrov, a leading expert at the Center for Military-Political Studies at MGIMO.

– In essence, they surrendered the Kurds to the Turks, but now they are trying to save face – to show that they are principled people. Hence the initiative of the US Congress in support of the Kurds – clearly a populism, even propaganda in nature.


Plus, Trump threatens with sanctions and condemns Turkey. But if he condemns – what did he consent to the Turkish operation ?!


Everything, I am sure, was agreed in advance. It’s just that Turkey as a military ally in this key region – objectively – is more important for the United States than the Kurds. As a result, the policy of sitting on two chairs – supporting the Kurds and maintaining good relations with Turkey – clearly cracked.


Trump understands this: he is a rather pragmatic politician. Therefore, he made concessions to Ankara.


– From the point of view of Russia, does the Turkish operation harm Syria?


– For us, nothing particularly harmful is happening. What are we going to fit in for the Kurds if they have essentially harmed us for many years? They met with the Americans, pursued a policy hostile to Damascus, did not go to negotiations with the Bashar al-Assad regime. Perhaps the Kurds participated in some kind of informal negotiations, but they did not play a positive role – they acted as a springboard for American influence in the region.


And well, I believe that the Kurds will now get the brains from Turkey – they will know what kind of ally they have in the person of Washington.


The Kurds, apparently, thought that they were the smartest – now they would replay everyone: they would seize the territory and gain independence under the American patronage.


At the same time, I note how the Russian side offered the Kurds a version of autonomy within Syria – and this was the best option for them, implemented both de facto and de jure.


The Kurds did not agree to such negotiations with Moscow. And if they had gone, everything that is happening now would not have happened. In this case, the government of the Syrian Arab army would have entered the territory of the Kurds, would have stood on the border with Turkey – and the issue would have been resolved.


– How will events develop now?


– The fate of the Kurds, I think, will be unenviable. If they continue to resist Turkey, the Turks will simply move on, and capture more and more areas.


As for our ally, Assad, we already do not control the border region, where military operations are ongoing. There are Kurds, that Kurds with the Americans, or there are Turks – the difference is small. Given that Russia now has good relations with Turkey, the Turks are even better for us.


On the other hand, the Turkish operation offers Russia the opportunity for a dagger strike on Idlib. Now the Turks entered the Kurdish region, and they got stuck there. So, if we strike at Idlib, the maximum that Ankara can do is to get off with common phrases and condemn our actions.

The Turks will not be able to do anything serious against us. Firstly, they themselves have a stigma – they invaded the territory of a sovereign state. Secondly, the Turks have all the resources in this area involved.


  • Why do we need to deal with Idlib?
  • There remains a pro-Western armed Syrian opposition, which must be eliminated. Otherwise, they will fight endlessly – and not far from Idlib our air base. So, I repeat, it would be necessary to take advantage of the situation and resolve the issue.
  • Turkish operation puts an end to the territorial integrity of Syria?
  • The task of gluing Syria is the task of Damascus itself. Of course, we are for territorial integrity, but there is no point in making any extra efforts for this.
  • If Damascus can subsequently agree with the Kurds – well, good. Maybe the current situation with the Americans will push the Kurds to the right decision.
  • Events in Syria are developing very dramatically, – notes Colonel-General Leonid Ivashov, academician of the Academy of Geopolitical Problems, former head of the Main Directorate for International Military Cooperation of the Ministry of Defense of the Russian Federation.

– Turkey begins the destruction of Kurdish formations, and the expulsion from the territory of Syria of the citizens of the country in the person of the Kurds. Namely citizens, because in 2011 Bashar al-Assad granted the Kurds Syrian citizenship.

Yes, ambiguous relations with the Kurds were during the period of military operations, however, the Syrian Kurds were one of the military tools for the defeat and destruction of the anti-Russian forces that captured Syria, and the Kurds acted in alliance with the government army.

Another thing is that they maintained relations with the United States both before the conflict and during the conflict. But this measure, I think, was forced, because no one, including Russia, was helping the Kurds at that time. In fact, the Americans took advantage of this to make the Kurds an instrument of pressure, while the Kurds defended their national interests, and most importantly, their citizens.

Be that as it may, now aggression against a foreign state is taking place from Turkey. And on the part of Russia, I believe, an act of betrayal is being committed – we, in fact, are giving Syrian citizens to the meat grinder of the Turkish armed forces.

This cannot be done. There are thousands of ways for a peaceful settlement, and any lengthy negotiations, albeit small steps, are better than the destruction of soldiers and civilians.

De facto, Russia agreed to the Turkish operation and the capture of part of Syria by the Turks. By this we betray the Syrians, since the official position of Damascus – formed not under the influence of Russian diplomacy – is the liberation of Syria from all foreign troops, from any foreign presence.

The situation, we believe, is extremely unfavorable. It is the Kurdish problem that can break the positive Astana process of the Syrian settlement.