As Turkey-Nato Relations Remain In Limbo, Ankara Vows To Resume Syria Operation
Ankara has reportedly been blackmailing NATO, refusing to sign the proposed defense plan for the Baltics and Poland unless the alliance officially recognizes Kurdish-led militia in northern Syria as a “terrorist group”.
Agreeing on a new NATO defense plan for the eastern European countries has escalated from a formality into a true diplomatic battle, Reuters reported Tuesday, citing four senior sources within the bloc.
“[The Turks) are taking eastern Europeans hostage, blocking approval of this military planning until they get concessions,” one of the sources said.
Turkey’s envoy had been instructed not to sign off the plan – which has to be unanimously approved by all the NATO members – until the alliance recognizes Syria’s People’s Protection Units (YPG) as terrorists.
The YPG is the core group within the so-called Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) militia, which has recently became the target of a new Turkish incursion. While the group has been a long-standing US ally and fought against Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS), Ankara regards it as an offshoot of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) – regarded both by the US and Turkey as a terrorist organization.
Poland and the three Baltic states – Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania – have solicited increased funding and military presence from NATO, arguing without evidence that they face an imminent threat of aggression from Russia.
The deadlock over the defense plan is threatening to spoil the planned festivities at NATO’s 70th anniversary summit in London. However, Ankara appears adamant that it will only green-light the plan if it receives concessions from the bloc.
“Everyone is criticizing them [the Turks], but if they give in, it will be at the cost of non-interference in their Syria strategy,” one of the sources said.
Turkey’s reported intransigence, if confirmed, only adds to NATO’s current woes, as US President Donald Trump has repeatedly criticized alliance members for failing to live up to their budgetary commitments. Only seven of NATO’s 29 members are currently spending at least two percent of their GDP on the military – and while Poland and the Baltics are among them, Turkey is not.
However, Turkey has the second-largest military within the alliance, and occupies the strategic position on its eastern flank, in reach of both Russia and the Middle East. For all that, Ankara has had a rocky relationship with the US recently, due to Turkey’s purchase of Russian S-400 air defense systems as well as its military operation in northern Syria.
Turkey might have taken Trump’s withdrawal of US troops as tacit approval for its ‘Operation Peace Spring,’ but Washington has maintained that the Kurdish-led Syrian militias are still its “allies” and repeatedly urged Ankara to show restraint in its assault against the SDF.
Turkey to resume ‘Peace Spring’ operation in northern Syria
Turkey’s National Security Council announced on Tuesday that the “Peace Spring” operation in northern Syria would continue until it achieves its goals, the Anatolia news agency reported.
The council said in a statement: “We expect the parties in the Safe Zone Agreement in Syria to complete the clearance of terrorists as soon as possible, including Tal Rifa’at and Manbij.”
He added: “Our state, which does not evade any burden or responsibility in the fight against terrorism, continues to fight Daesh.”
The Turkish National Security Council called on the international community to “support Ankara in securing the voluntary and safe return of Syrians to their homes without any religious or ethnic discrimination.”
The Russian Foreign Minister, Sergei Lavrov, announced today that Russia has no information about Turkey’s intention to violate the Russian-Turkish memorandum on Syria.
Speaking at a news conference after talks with his Icelandic counterpart, Lavrov said:
“With regard to the implementation of the Russian-Turkish Memorandum signed on the 22nd of October, we have no information indicating Turkey’s intention to violate it. October, we got the approval to implement it and, above all, the approval of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, and the approval of the Kurdish leadership, which has strongly confirmed that it will cooperate.”
Russia warns Syrian Kurds to adhere to withdrawal agreement
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov issued a warning to the Syrian Kurds this week, calling on them to adhere to the withdrawal agreement that was put in place in October.
“I would advise Kurdish political leaders to stick to their word,” Lavrov told reporters, as quoted by the Tass News Agency.
“Kurdish leaders vigorously assured us that they would cooperate,” Lavrov said while citing the October 22nd agreement. “The Kurdish leadership immediately lost enthusiasm for cooperation… and once again opted to rely on the United States’ support.”
The Kurds should help maintain Syria’s sovereignty and build meaningful dialogue with Damascus in order to ensure their rights, Lavrov said.
“So I would advise our Kurdish colleagues to be consistent and refrain from taking questionable actions as the situation changes,” he said.