French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian has called upon European Union member states to condemn Turkey's "Operation Peace Spring" that was launched on 9 October against the Kurdish-dominated Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) and Daesh (ISIS/ISIL)* remnants in northeastern Syria.
"This Council is meeting amid an especially serious political context. It is serious because the Turk offensive could cause the re-emergence of Daesh… This is especially serious because Syrian Democratic Forces, currently under threat, are our allies… And it is especially serious because this offensive will cause a genuine humanitarian disaster", Le Drian told the press at the EU’s Foreign Affairs Council in Luxembourg on Monday, adding that the Turkish military operation has already generated 130,000 additional refugees and displaced persons.
On 12 October, Berlin and Paris halted arms exports to Turkey over the offensive, while British Prime Minister Boris Johnson urged Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan to stop the advance.
Earlier, Washington made it clear that it did not endorse the Turkish military operation.
PENTAGON STATEMENT @ChiefPentSpox: "Unfortunately, Turkey has chosen to act unilaterally. As a result we have moved the U.S. forces in northern Syria out of the path of potential Turkish incursion to ensure their safety. We have made no changes to our force presence in Syria." pic.twitter.com/gJ6Jdih3W9— OIR Spokesman Col. Myles B. Caggins III (@OIRSpox) 8 октября 2019 г.
Having washed its hands of Ankara's military push, the US partially withdrew its military forces from the conflict zone. At the same time, however, the White House threatened Turkey with economic sanctions over the incursion. According to Reuters, measures may be taken as early as this week.
Nevertheless, Turkey continues to push ahead with its military operation in a bid to create a "safe zone" reaching 30 kilometres into the Arab Republic. According to Ankara, the Kurdish People's Protection Unions (YPG) – the backbone of the SDF – is an affiliate of the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK), designated as a terrorist organisation in Turkey.
Turkey's Incursion into Syria Poses Security Threat to France
Since the beginning of the operation, the Turkish-led Syrian National Army (SNA) has largely outgunned the Kurdish militia. According to Daily Sabah, 440 YPG fighters have been killed, while 26 have been captured and 24 others have surrendered over the past six days.
Paolo Raffone, a strategic analyst and director of the CIPI Foundation in Brussels, says that the rampage in northeastern Syria coincides with the 100th anniversary of the Armenian Genocide Remembrance Day, which was first commemorated in Istanbul in 1919 by survivors of the tragedy.
"The current Turkish military intervention in neighbouring Syria, reportedly to fight the Kurdish terrorists linked to the PKK, has reactivated all French alarms over the 'Turkish question' in Europe", Raffone says. "France has been consistently denouncing and condemning the Armenian Genocide of 1915. The French analysis of the 2019 Turkish anti-Kurd offensive in Syria is geopolitical and security-driven more than humanitarian".
The strategic analyst stresses that a new actor with links to the European continent may re-emerge in the Middle Eastern region – the foreign fighters who previously joined Daesh. Therefore, France sees the current situation in the region as a "tremendous domestic security threat" and a "geopolitical nightmare", especially given that Washington has shunted off to the sidelines in the Syria conflict, he elaborates.
To tackle the threat, French President Emmanuel Macron has spearheaded an initiative to halt the Turkish offensive by meeting with European leaders and holding an emergency summit of the National Defence Council in Paris.
EU and US Measures: Too Little, Too Late
Raffone, however, believes that the measures advocated by the EU and Washington are insufficient and may not bring about tangible results.
"The statement issued by the EU six members of the UN Security Council [on 10 October] confirms that the French lead against the Turkish military offensive has created a common ground on the perspective threats and the consequences of the Turkish action, but it is remarkably weak as for recovery and counter actions", he says.
According to him, neither the EU arms embargo nor the US economic sanctions will change the course of affairs in northeast Syria. Moreover, the proposed restrictions may hit the EU's own banks, which "detain [sic] some 70 percent of the Turkish debt", Raffone highlights.
"The most disturbing situation is that Turkey is a key NATO member and has a privileged relationship with the EU", the strategic analyst notes, stressing that the recent statements by Secretary General of NATO Jens Stoltenberg and High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Federica Mogherini have demonstrated "the ineffectiveness and irrelevance of both organisations".
According to Raffone, "with the irrelevance of NATO and the EU, Russia is the sole heavy player, but it needs to play quickly a number of wild cards to avoid finding itself dragged into a degenerating conflict".
'No Stopping Until We Reach Our Goals'
Following the launch of the Turkish military operation, Russian President Vladimir Putin stated on 12 October that Syria should be cleared from illegitimate foreign military presence.
"I have said openly to my colleagues that Syrian territory should be freed from foreign military presence, and the territorial integrity of the Syrian Arab Republic should be fully restored", the Russian president told Arab media ahead of his visit to Riyadh.
Meanwhile, on Sunday, the authorities of the self-proclaimed Kurdish autonomy in northern Syria announced that they had reached an agreement with Damascus to deploy Syrian forces along the Turkish border to repel Ankara's advance.
It was reported the next day that the Syrian Arab Army had entered the city of Tabqah, previously held by the Kurdish militia, in the province of Raqqa and is moving northward.
Amid the emerging reports about the EU arms embargo, potential American sanctions, and alleged Syrian involvement, Ibrahim Kalin, special adviser and spokesperson for Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, tweeted on 14 October: "No stopping until we reach our goals".
*Daesh (ISIS/ISIL/Islamic State) is a terrorist group banned in Russia and many other countries.
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