Could Erdogan get Putin's permission for an invasion in Syria?
By the time you read these lines, Erdogan will have finished his visit to Sochi and be back in Turkey. This is the second time in a single month that Erdogan, after officially committing himself by signing declarations pronouncing Russia as the "common enemy" at the NATO Summit in Madrid, is meeting with Putin, who is now treated as a pariah in the world. Of course, it should be noted that most of these meetings took place in Russia, and Putin visited Turkey less frequently.
The main goal of Putin, who has become increasingly isolated in the world, is to push Turkey further away from NATO and to turn NATO's second largest army and the one that controls the Straits, into an even bigger boil within the alliance. In doing so, he has to manage the difficult balance of not alienating Assad and the Syrian regime. Although the only thing that unites Assad and Erdogan is their hostility toward the Kurds, the regime in Damascus is aware that Turkey would not give up the territory it has entered and intends to make the occupation permanent. Therefore, it is questionable how much it would welcome a new Turkish advance.
But Erdogan also has troubles at home. According to public opinion polls, the AKP's vote share has fallen below 20% for the first time. The opposition, with the exception of the Kurds, is united and agreed on a common candidate. All of the potential opposition candidates have more support than Erdogan. This is not tolerable for Erdogan. Besides, his only goal now is to make it to the 100th anniversary of the founding of the Republic next year. At a time when the economy is collapsing and poverty is getting worse, he has two options: The first is to make peace with the society, especially the Kurds, through a general amnesty. Put Abdullah Ocalan under house arrest and start a new process. Due to the maneuvers of the Palace, Ocalan's statements from Imrali will not have much impact on the majority of Kurdish voters, unless the Mandela model is followed.
Despite all of Erdogan's agility, this possibility does not seem likely. That is why he is going to Sochi, to get the approval for the operation that he failed to get in Tehran. Tell Rifaat and Manbij are critical for the Assad regime and the Shiites, but not Kobane. Kobane, like Afrin, is an expendable asset, and any action there will draw the ire of the American public and Congress, unlike Europe. An invasion of Kobane would put Turkish-American relations beyond repair and make the purchase of the F-16s, which Erdogan is so keen on, unfeasible. While its economy is in shambles, Turkey will also find a more prepared opponent this time. Of course, with an air force and its superior weaponry, it will eventually achieve its goal, but not without paying a heavy price. But Erdogan is not in a situation to care for the country and its future. His only concern is his own personal future for which he is ready to throw everyone into the fire. The jihadist mentality is an ideology that, thanks to the education system, has also left deep traces in the secular segment of the society. This is a country populated by people who attach great importance to land, people who won't hesitate to add 500 square-meters of unlicenced construction in and around a 1000 square-meter house.
Such an operation would give Erdogan a boost of three to five percentage points, as it always does. It would further demonize and isolate the HDP, which would oppose such an invasion effort, and cause a rift in the table set by the six opposition parties. Such a divide-and-rule strategy is likely to succeed because of the opposition's pro-state stance and wimpy attitude. Having subdued Europe through the refugee crisis, Erdogan is now testing the patience of the Biden administration. CENTCOM is losing its claim to be a reliable partner in the eyes of both Turkey and the Kurds as they watch helplessly as commanders of the Syrian Democratic Forces, who took great risks to save the lives of US soldiers with whom they fought side by side against ISIS in Syria, are killed by UCAVs.
It is inevitable that this balance Erdogan managed to create will break down at some point. What is certain is that a new attack on Syria would make Turkey an incredibly risky country for itself and for the region. Such a war would expose Europe to another influx of refugees it could not handle and allow ISIS to gain strength. Great danger awaits at the doorstep.
*Ergun Babahan graduated from Istanbul University Law School in 1981. After a short time working as a lawyer, he stepped into journalism as a reporter in Yeni Asır. He worked as an editor, managing editor and editor-in-chief in Söz, Hürriyet, Sabah and Yeni Binyıl newspapers, respectively. He joined the John Knight Professional Program at Stanford University with a German Marshall Fund scholarship in 1988, and the American Foreign Policy Process program at the University of Maryland in 1990 with a Ford Foundation scholarship. Babahan served as the editor-in-chief for +Gercek and now works as editor-in-chief for +GercekNews.