With his policy in the Syrian conflict, Turkish President Erdogan is challenging the major powers Russia and the USA. For Moscow and Washington, Turkey has become an important partner in the Ukraine war that they like to keep happy – now Erdogan is using this political weight to impose his ideas in Syria and increase his chances in next year’s elections .
Erdogan’s threat of a new invasion of Syria is putting pressure on the Russians and the Americans. If they agree to a Turkish ground offensive, they are acting against their own interests in Syria: Russia does not want any further losses of territory for its partner, Syrian President Assad; the USA sticks – so far at least – to their Syrian-Kurdish allies from the militia YPG, who are terrorists from Turkey’s point of view, but from the American point of view they are indispensable allies in the fight against the Islamic State.
The governments in Moscow and Washington still show understanding for Erdogan and his call for retaliation for the Istanbul bombing. Government spokesmen in both capitals called for prudence in Turkey but avoided harshly worded warnings to Ankara.
On the other hand, Erdogan is also careful not to anger the two important countries. So far, Turkish fighter jets have apparently not penetrated Syrian airspace, which is controlled by Russia and the USA.
With a new ground offensive, however, Erdogan would give up this reluctance. Russia and America have made it clear several times that they don’t want that, but now Erdogan has reiterated his threat.
The Kurdish Party sees the airstrikes in Syria as an election campaign
On Tuesday he followed up again and said the invasion should begin “as soon as possible”. He serves his nationalist supporters with criticism of the US for its cooperation with the YPG.
The Turkish Kurdish party HDP sees Erdogan’s rhetoric and the airstrikes in Syria as electoral maneuvers. In recent years, Erdogan has used military interventions in Syria to improve his reputation with voters. He currently needs a boost in popularity, especially because of the severe economic crisis in Turkey.
But while experience shows that Erdogan always has domestic politics in mind when acting on foreign policy, his plan for Syria goes beyond campaign bluster. The Turkish president is convinced that he has made his country such a strong player on the international stage in recent years that even Russia and the US cannot simply ignore Turkish interests.
His mediation efforts in the Ukraine war have improved his reputation on both sides of the conflict. For Kremlin boss Putin, Erdogan is the most important Western dialogue partner; moreover, with the help of Turkey, Russia can at least circumvent some Western sanctions. Erdogan is important for Europe and the US because he can negotiate with both Putin and Ukrainian President Zelenskyy; the Istanbul Grain Deal showed that.
Now the “time of reckoning” has come, Erdogan’s government declared at the beginning of the airstrikes on the YPG. The same applies to Turkey’s attitude towards the USA and Russia: Erdogan wants to convert Turkey’s growing importance into Syria. Should Turkey allow its soldiers to invade Syria, Russia and America would have to decide whether to drive Erdogan to the parade or whether to let him do it. The Turkish President apparently firmly believes that he will get his way.
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