Turkey has refused to let refugees from Aleppo to cross into its territory, saying that it will only provide aid to those who settled just across the border on the Syrian side. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has shrugged off the U.N. demands to let the refugees in, saying that his country already has hosted millions of refugees and wasn’t in a position to take more. Erdogan’s rigid stance reflects a strain in relations with the U.S. and other allies in the U.S.-led coalition over their support for the Kurdish groups in Syria and Iraq against Turkey’s complaints.
The Turkish government considers the Kurdish Democratic Union Party, or PYD, and its YPG militia group as branches of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, a Kurdish resistance group it has long fought and considers a terrorist group. Much to Turkey’s dismay, the U.S. have provided support to the Kurdish groups, which have proven their capability in the fight against the Islamic State group. Erdogan’s government angrily lashed out at Washington for supporting the Kurds, and it also blamed the U.S. and its allies for failing to persuade Russia to stop its bombing in support of Assad’s offensive.
Turkey, which had maintained warm ties with Syria before the conflict, has become one of Assad’s fiercest foes after the turmoil began in an apparent hope to expand its interests in the country which once was the part of the Ottoman Empire. Erdogan’s Syria policy was fueled by his hopes to boost Turkey’s clout in the Middle East, but Assad has clung to power despite most expectations and the Russian air campaign has helped shore up his grip on power.
At the same time, Turkey’s formerly close ties with Russia have plunged to a freezing point after a Turkish fighter jet shot down a Russian warplane at the border with Syria last November. President Vladimir Putin denounced the Turkish action as “treacherous blow in the back” and made it clear that the Russian military would shoot down any Turkish warplane that would threaten Russian aircraft.
THREAT OF SYRIAN CONFLICT EXPANSION
Turkey, which supported its ethnic kin living in northern Syria and other militant groups opposed to Assad, has been weighing its response as they were suffering defeat at the hands of Assad’s military. The Russian military has claimed that it has spotted Turkey’s preparations for invading Syria, and just this week Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu pledged to defend “our brothers from Aleppo”.
If Turkey, a NATO member, sends its troops into Syria, it could lead to a dangerous escalation of the conflict and raise the threat of direct confrontation between Russian and Turkish forces there. That could have broad ramification and pull the U.S. and NATO allies into the conflict. Complicating the situation, Saudi Arabia also said that it could send its special forces into Syria.
PROSPECTS FOR PEACE TALKS UNCLEAR
The Syrian talks in Geneva were adjourned last week just days after they began as the opposition delegation walked out, demanding an end to Russian airstrikes. Russia has shrugged off the demand, saying that it will continue its blitz targeting the Islamic State group and other militants. It said that for any cease-fire to be negotiated in Syria, international mediators need to agree on the lists of moderate opposition groups that mustn’t be targeted and the terrorist groups that should be considered the legitimate target.
Efforts to draw up such lists have been stalled, and it’s not clear how these differences could be reconciled in the foreseeable future. The U.N. envoy for Syrian conflict, Staffan de Mistura, said the talks should be reconvened no later than Feb. 25, but it’s still unclear if this goal could be achieved. Assad’s military success could further destabilize the situation, prompting both Turkey and the Saudis to enter stage to defend their proxies in Syria.
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