Commentary in Annahar newspaper on Afrin operation

Annahar Premium – Jan. 18, 2018 and Annahar – Jan. 21, 2018

Mr. George Issa, distinguished journalist in the Lebanese newspaper “Annahar”, posed to me the following questions on the operation in Afrin, Syria:

G.I.: May I ask your opinion for my article about the growing tensions between Erdoğan and Putin, reflected in the Turkish military deployments near Afrin?
What will happen now if Turkey moved to Afrin without the Russian consent, concerning the Astana process and the war in Idlib?

EJK: I will try to give you my point of view on the latest developments about Russia and Turkey.

I will not agree with the military strategist’s point of view that you mention in your article. The reason Turkey organized “Euphrates Shield” operation was that it wanted to prevent the unification of the east with the west Kurdish area, and definitely not because it needed to enter the game again, as he points out. Obama was playing with Erdoğan about the Kurds reaching to Manbij, so after Russian-Turkish rapprochement he took the opportunity to solve the problem by himself. Turkey has significant interference in the area through M.O.M. room and the support it provides for the rebels. This power is used for its moves. The elimination of the Kurds from its borders is crucial for its national security. This is how it views it.

I must say here, that no move has been made in Syria by Turkey until today without the consent of Russia and US, including the Euphrates shield operation. Therefore, if Turkey will move in Afrin, it means that Russia will not object. Saleh Muslim’s statement few days ago was clear: “If there is a Turkish operation in Afrin, it will have Moscow’s consent”. On the other hand, it is the perfect timing for this operation, since US does not have a clear long term strategy for Syria and its only concern is to push Iranians away from it.

There is a new development today with the emergency visit of Hakan Fidan and Hulusi Akar to Moscow, which was unannounced. They will try to get Moscow’s consent for Afrin operation. In my view, Moscow must choose between disbanding its gains in the area and its relations with the Kurds (which might prove useful in the future) or supporting a strong ally like Turkey. In the first case, the cards will be redrawn in the area. All Astana agreements will be gone.

Russia needs Turkey, both for future political solution as well as for a and this can be proved by the results of small Turkish moves in Idlib. A limited Turkish support to the rebels has made things for Russia difficult. If Moscow decides to stop Afrin operation, Turkey will move with the rebels and Euphrates shield forces. They will not only move in Afrin but also in Halab, Hama, against strategic Russian points etc. The table will be destroyed again. The Afrin operation will be a fast one, by striking specific important targets, creating a shock in the ground and putting pressure to the population to flee the area. They will give them a way out, as it happened in Halab. No Euphrates shield type of invasion.

Of course Moscow understands that if its answer to the operation is positive, this will strengthen more Turkey’s position in the region since it will control more territories and will have significant influence in any future political solution regarding Assad’s stay in power etc. Nevertheless, I believe that Moscow will finally give the green light for Afrin to avoid side effects.

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