''It’s not in our power to stop Turkish intervention in Syria, to make the Turks and Kurds agree''
Non-peaceful ''Olive Branch'': what has forced Ankara to launch a new military operation in Syria?
Turkish military began an ''anti-terrorist operation'' against Kurdish militias near the town of Afrin in northern Syria last weekend. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has announced the intention to mop up the area of the Turkish-Syrian border. Journalist in international affairs Dmitry Babich in the interview with Realnoe Vremya told about the reasons which have prompted Ankara to take this step with the tacit consent of Moscow.
''The West and Turkey are creating new dangers to themselves''
What has made Turkey to start a new military operation in Syria?
If you look from a bird's-eye view on what is happening as well as the events of the last six years, starting from the crisis in Syria in 2011, it gives the picture of big defeat of the West and a situation quite dangerous for Turkey. The West conducted the operation in Syria in order to punish and destroy not very hostile to them and not the most important regime in the region (Syria). President Bashar al-Assad focused on Europe, the main trading relations were established with France and Great Britain and with the European Union as a whole. He lived in England for a long time, loved to travel to France. His presence at the parade of 14 July (Bastille Day — editor's note) was a very important event in 2008 for him.
But the West did not destroy this regime but worsened the relations with a much more important country — Turkey, which for many years had been an ally (for the West) and which by its weight is much greater than other countries in the region. It was a huge mistake of the West because Turkey's importance is certainly higher than of Syria in the region and in global politics. The kind of rhetoric that is taking place between Turkey and the United States, Turkey and the European Union, was unthinkable even five years ago, to say nothing of the 10- and 20-year past, when Turkey was very reliable and the most mission capable member of NATO. It is a major result of the last six years.
What is happening today fits into the overall logic of the last years. By its mistake, interference in the Syrian affairs, both the West and Turkey are creating new dangers to themselves that they are trying to eliminate by blaming Russia for their troubles and causing even more damage. The US and the EU, trying to get rid of not very hostile and not dangerous at all for them Assad regime, have contributed to the establishment in Syria of the so-called Islamic state (the organization banned in Russia — editor's note). Now ISIS, thank God, has been temporarily (!) defeated but not destroyed completely.
Turkey, aiming to put in Damascus a more loyal administration (although the Assad administration was not hostile to Turkey), created around a huge Kurdish problem at its Syrian border and now is forced to try to solve this problem by military means with huge risks for its relations with the United States and for security in the country. Insurgent elements inside Turkey can become more active now, it is a high possibility of dangerous attacks. The scheme is following (as they used to say in the middle ages): a thrown stone fell on the heads of those who threw. This idea should form the basis of our analysis of this situation.
What is the role of Russia in this situation?
Russia does not pretend to that it will solve all their problems for the Syrians, Turks and Kurds. Russia is far away. There are practically no ethnically our people today in this region. Our influence is quite indirect and strengthened by the madness of other participants of this drama, first of all, the Western invaders. Russia is blamed for that it danced to the tune of Turkey, withdrew from Afrin its soldiers, military police, despite the fact that it is the area of de-escalation. But what do our critics want from Russia? That it bent over backwards and solved for the Syrians all their problems? It's impossible. It is obvious that Turkey in northern Syria have their own interests, worries about security, and Russia recognizes them. Besides, Turkey on the background of the absolutely insane behaviour of the EU, hostile to Russia, with all its precariousness and unpredictability turns out to be a more reliable partner for laying energy channels to European countries than the European Union itself. Therefore, it is not suitable for Moscow to spoil the relations with Ankara.
The attitude of Russia to the invasion of Turkey can be expressed through the following formula: we did what we could in order to bring peace to the region. Now we are holding a congress of the Syrian ethnic groups (Syrian National Dialogue Congress) in Sochi. What else can we do? To intimidate everyone? We probably cannot to force, to compel the world and Turkey, the Kurdish forces and Syrian government troops. That is why Russia in this situation is being at a loss, it tried to prevent the worst — victory of the Islamic state and the overthrow of the legitimate government of Syria. Russia could not allow this variant, it prevented it. Now, unfortunately, it is not in our power to stop the Turkish invasion, to force the Turks and Kurds to agree. For this, we should be just another state with another potential.
''Turkey is being in a certain isolation''
Dmitry, how successful (or unsuccessful) has turned out to be the previous operation of Ankara — Operation Euphrates Shield?
It temporary solved some of the problems. But it is obvious that Turkey is concerned about a growing influence of Kurdish groups, especially the YPG (the People's Protection Units – editor's note), in whom the Turks see the same Kurdistan Workers' Party. The Turks are concerned about the growth of their influence in northern Syria. The previous Operation Euphrates Shield obviously have not eliminated these concerns. As for personal responsibility, Erdoğan in this situation should look at his own actions. Just in 2000, Syria practically squeezed out from its territory Abdullah Öcalan (the former leader of the Kurdistan Workers' Party — editor's note) and met Turkey halfway – he was forced to leave Syria, after several months of wandering he got into the hands of the Turkish secret services. I have seen no hostility in the Syrian policy in respect to Turkey for the last 20 years. I can explain why it was necessary to so vehemently curse Assad, to try to remove his regime, to support the insurgency in Syria, starting from 2011, only by arrogance, which has suddenly swept not only Turkey, but also Western countries. In the end, they trapped themselves because they have unbalanced the region and triggered such forces, which they obviously are not able to control. Now they are being punished for their actions.
In this situation, some media write that we acted badly, relinquished the Kurds for the sake of the Russian-Turkish gas deal. Russia cannot completely solve for the people of Syria their problems. It can help to avoid the worst — victory of the Islamists, many of whom are Russian citizens. It can provide humanitarian assistance. But it can't solve the Turkish-Kurdish or Arab-Kurdish problem for them. It should be solved by the Syrians themselves. We can offer to meet in Sochi. But in this situation they should not demand from Russia more than we can do.
Who from international and Syrian forces support Ankara in this operation?
It's so happened that Turkey is being in a certain isolation. Erdoğan has nothing to boast of in the international arena except the neutral attitude of Moscow. It is rather local, internal matter: perhaps, the Turks know better which Kurdish groups they can tolerate on their borders and which they cannot. Obviously, Ankara has developed good relations with the Iraqi Kurds. But with Syrian Kurds Ankara does not expect to establish good relations. I do not presume to judge whether these fears are justified or not. Erdoğan has decided not to allow a creation of such state (Kurdistan — editor's note) in the north of Syria.
Who can support Turkey inside Syria?
There are groups of Turkic-speaking minority operating in the north of Syria. A favourable factor for Russia may be following: the Americans, the Western powers are major support for the Kurds. These forces to some extent indirectly enter a conflict with Ankara. It will destroy the united front of NATO, which has existed for many decades and is aimed at completely crazy idea — the conquest of Russia. If two members of NATO had a fight (especially an important member such as Turkey, and the main member — the US), it probably will be beneficial to Russia. Moscow is likely to be blamed for the fact that we have created it by ourselves, but this is not true. If we had it our way, there would have been no war and the situation would have remained in the same condition, in which it had been before 2011, and it would have been if not perfect but better situation than the current.
Who exactly opposes the Turks? And what is the balance of forces for today?
Kurdish groups, which have proved their combat capability during the war with the Islamic state, in the civil war in Syria in general. It is still unknown about the Turkish army: how weakened it is after the events of the failed coup, the subsequent purge. But in general we can say that the Turkish army during the years of the Syrian civil war disappointed its fans. That is, these views, which had been until 2011 that the Turkish army was many times greater than any Syrian armed forces, corresponded to a larger Turkish population, turned out tot be more difficult. It is either the army does not want to fight for those ideals, which Erdoğan supports, or the information was not so accurate. But the Turkish army turned out to be worse than expected.
Why did the Turks choose such a strange name for the armed intervention — Olive Branch, which seemingly symbolizes peace?
Erdoğan keeps up with the fashion. Today's world is very hypocritical. It never declares a normal war as it used to be before, it always tells ''peace enforcement'', ''anti-terrorist operation''. Erdoğan just doesn't want to be different from the same Western leaders who never admit rude intentions and impulses, which they are driven by. They always hide behind the mask of something humane, peaceful, democratic.
What are preliminary results of the operation? And how is it going to end?
It is too early to speak about preliminary results yet. The offensive operations have continued for only a few days. So far, people decided to leave Afrin, and there have been quite effective Turkish air strikes. It says little about anything. Only ground forces can carry out a real control. We will see what will happen. I have the feeling that with the beginning of the Turkish civil war it is as if a dam has broken: the Western countries (NATO members) were happy to break that dam, but when water rushed with a terrible force, they're trying to stop it, losing their people, civilian population, causing such troubles compared to which the old troubles seem to be small annoyances.