Facing Kurds, Erdogan bets on Putin

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The Turkish president, whose army threatens Manbij, pushes his advantage against the Kurds, at the expense of the United States.

Roji Kurd: Welcomed in Ankara by 21 guns and the guard on horseback, Russian President Vladimir Putin was treated as a distinguished guest by his Turkish counterpart, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who received him on Tuesday, April 3, in his palace of 200 000 m2. On Wednesday, April 4, Vladimir Putin was to be joined by Iranian President Hassan Rohani for a tripartite summit, Turkey, Russia, Iran, devoted to the resolution of the Syrian conflict.

On Tuesday, on the esplanade of the palace, Presidents Putin and Erdogan attended by videoconference to the laying of the first concrete block of the Akkuyu nuclear power plant, in the south of the country (Mersin region), a mega-project of worth $ 20 billion, the construction and operation of which is the responsibility of Rosatom, the Russian nuclear giant civil.

If completed, the shipyard, an old sea serpent, will be the first step towards nuclear power generation in Turkey, which is 55% dependent on Russian gas for consumption. Knowing that the plant will not be operational until 2023 and that Rosatom has not yet found its Turkish partners, the two presidents’ happy faces were not due to the rich prospects for energy cooperation. Rather, they reflected a shared horizon in Syria, where the Russo-Turkish strategic alliance is starting to bear fruit.

The region of Manbij, west of the Euphrates, is in full turmoil. Located about 30 kilometers from the Turkish border, the area, where are stationed coalition troops in support of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), an Arab-Kurdish coalition at the forefront of the fight against the Islamic State organization (IS) ) in Syria, has become a hotbed of tension. It fears the Turkish offensive repeatedly promised by Erdogan. Galvanized by the capture of the Kurdish enclave of Afrin (northwestern Syria), on March 18, by his army and his Syrian counterparts, the “reis” promises total war to the FDS, allied with the Americans.
According to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (OSDH), reinforcements and heavy artillery have arrived in recent days in Manbij. “There is an influx of coalition forces into the Manbij region, a largely American deployment involving French elements, and preparations are underway to build at least one new coalition base in the region. around Manbij “, according to an analyst with a vast network of contacts within the security forces of northeastern Syria.

Trenches were dug at the entrance to the city, police checkpoints were erected. According to Delil Souleiman, the Agence France-Presse correspondent on site, “a few hundred meters only” separate the territories held by the SDS from those in the hands of pro-Turkish rebels.

Access to eastern Syria

Manbij opens access to the broad eastern territory of Syria controlled by the FDS, becoming the best allies of the coalition in the fight against ISIS jihadists. Dominated by YPG Kurdish fighters, closely linked to the Turkish Government’s Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), the FDS are described as “terrorists” by Ankara. Their fighters will be driven out of the territories they control in eastern Syria, “to Iraq,” promised Erdogan.

“The United States must retake Manbij from the hands of the terrorists, otherwise we will do it with the help of the people of the region,” said Erdogan on Monday. Turkish threats are subdued by a keen observer from northern Syria: “Turkey does not seem to have the means to mobilize the tribes of Manbij although Ankara was able to caress the ambition.That said, there are clandestine armed groups who carry out actions against the SDS in the region of Manbij Some elements suggest suspicions of links with Ankara. “They claimed several attempts of assassinations of personalities related to the SDS in the area of ​​Manbij since the beginning of the year. On March 29, two coalition soldiers, an American and a British man, were killed in a still-mysterious explosion while raiding a terrorist target.
In this powder keg, Erdogan can count on Russia. Shortly after a March 27 phone call with Putin, Moscow withdrew its few soldiers from Tal Rifaat, a YPG-controlled locality in northwestern Syria, leaving the way open to the Turks and their Syrian allies, who ended up Position yourself around the city without entering. “The offensive was stopped for want of an agreement with the Russians and Damascus, who did not want the city and the nearby Menagh airbase to fall to Syrian anti-Bachar and pro-Turkish rebels. “, says a diplomatic source.

Nothing is done without consultation with Moscow. Ilnur Cevik, the president’s diplomatic adviser, admitted in an interview with CNN Türk on Saturday (March 31st): “If Russia had not opened the airspace to us, we would never have been able to take Al-Bab – February 2017 – and Afrin – March 2018. – We could not even fly a drone, I give 10 out of 10 to Russia. “

Fear of Kurdish separatism

The Russo-Turkish entente is perfect at least on one point: the Americans must leave Syria. “They have not received any invitation from Damascus, they must leave the Syrian territories after the elimination of the terrorists.This will be done soon,” promises Sergei Lavrov, the head of Russian diplomacy for months. “You only have to leave, what are you doing in the region? We understandably, we have 911 kilometers of border with Syria, but you?”, Hammered the Turkish president on February 16 to the address American forces stationed in Manbij.

In their Syrian offensive, the Turks are guided by the fear of Kurdish separatism and the desire to avenge the United States, allied within NATO. In Erdogan’s eyes, the US ally has inevitably steeped in the failed coup in July 2016, if only because its alleged instigator, Imam Fethullah Gülen, lives in Pennsylvania. The fact that the US military is training and equipping the SDS in Syria has only further infuriated the Turkish President.

For now, Vladimir Putin can not refuse anything to his Turkish ally. On Wednesday morning, Turkey announced that the delivery of Russian missiles ordered by Ankara, scheduled for 2020, was advanced to July 2019. Moscow is counting on Erdogan to pull out a peace agreement from the anti-Bashar Syrian opposition. An agreement impossible to negotiate without the participation of Iran, another major player in the conflict, which is resolutely opposed to the Turkish presence in Syria.

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