News analysis: Disappointed by US, Turkey seeks Russian support in Syria
“The Americans have not kept their promises to us so far,” Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu said in an interview on CNN Türk on Jan. 18, in response to U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson’s remarks at Stanford University the day before.
“We are looking for solid steps, not just words,” Çavuşoğlu added, saying Washington should “immediately stop collaborating with terrorist groups,” in reference to the U.S. Central Command’s (CENTCOM) collaboration with the People’s Protection Units (YPG), the Syrian branch of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which is also designated as a terrorist organization by the U.S.
“[Tillerson’s] statement did not fully satisfy us … American officials from Barack Obama to Donald Trump have promised that their collaboration with the YPG would end and all weapons would immediately be collected back. We want them to honor their words,” the Turkish foreign minister also said.
After meeting with Çavuşoğlu on Jan. 16 in Vancouver during a gathering on the North Korea issue, Tillerson said on Jan. 17 that previous statements by U.S. officials about a 30,000-strong Border Security Force in Syria, including the YPG, did not precisely reflect the truth. He said it would not be correct to refer to this force as an “army,” adding that Turkish officials had been told U.S. intentions were only “to ensure that local elements are providing security to liberated areas.”
The first Turkish reaction to Tillerson’s words came in the morning hours from Prime Minister Binali Yıldırım, who said statements from the U.S. administration were “contradictory” and showed “confusion.” Yıldırım had said earlier that it was a “shame” that the U.S. is building a border force against NATO ally Turkey.
Hours before Yıldırım’s statement, the Turkish military buildup on the western side of the Syrian border was put on high alert, in accordance with a statement after a National Security Council (MGK) meeting late on Jan. 17 chaired by President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. Turkish artillery has started to pound YPG positions around the YPG-held town of Afrin, which Ankara says is used by the YPG/PKK to infiltrate into Turkey.
Meanwhile, Chief of General Staff Hulusi Akar and National Intelligence Organization (MİT) head Hakan Fidan are on the way to Moscow in search of more support in Syria against the YPG/PKK build up, “including in the use of Syria air space,” according to Çavuşoğlu. He added that Turkey is also in contact with Iran on the issue.
It seems that the Turkish government is determined to act on the YPG/PKK presence in Syria, even without help from its NATO ally the U.S. The operation is now conditional on support from NATO’s main rival, Russia.