This graphic maps Turkish military operations taking place in Syria between 2016 and 2018. To find out more about Turkey’s security situation and its military operations in Syria, see Fabien Merz’s recent addition to our CSS Analyses in Security Policy series here. For more graphics on defense policy, see the CSS’ collection of graphs and charts on the subject here.
Less than a week after Turkey began its invasion of Afrin – the northwestern pocket of Syria that borders Turkey and is controlled by the Kurdish People’s Protection Units, or YPG – NATO has voiced its consent of the operation. On a visit to Istanbul, NATO Deputy Secretary General Rose Gottemoeller told a Turkish newspaper that NATO recognizes the threat terrorism poses to Turkey. While the language Gottemoeller used wasn’t highly specific, she was referring to the threat posed to Turkey by the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK, an internationally recognized terrorist group. Over the past three decades, the PKK has led an insurgency that has caused the deaths of roughly 40,000 people.
The possible creation of a new geopolitical reality in the Middle East may have snuck under the radar this holiday weekend. The continuing spectacle of the investigations into Russia’s possible involvement in the 2016 Election and the continued naming and shaming of corporate leaders and politicians involved in sexual harassment (as well as Thanksgiving), may have overshadowed the summit in Sochi between the Presidents of Russia, Turkey, and Iran, shortly after Syrian President Bashar al-Assad visited President Putin in the same city (and thanked him for “saving Syria”).
The recent statement by Turkish President Erdogan that Ankara had made an advance payment to Russia for the purchase of two S-400 air defense batteries, combined with Russia’s confirmation of this report, constitutes a significant development that adds to the question marks about Turkey’s future in NATO. This development also strengthens Russia’s standing in the Middle East, because it is another expression of the rapprochement between Moscow and Ankara. However, the Turkish-Russian rapprochement does not by itself reduce the leverage available to the West in its relations with Turkey, above all the defense relations in the context of NATO and the extensive trade between Turkey and the European Union. While many believe that Turkey will remain a NATO member for the foreseeable future, they note at the same time that Turkey is a problematic member of the alliance that is already suffering from quite a few internal tensions.