In northern Syria, before Turkey’s announced military intervention, the first skirmishes broke out between pro-Turkish and Kurdish militias. Fighting on Friday was concentrated in the Manbij area, northeast of the city of Aleppo, which is one of the targets of the planned invasion.
Turkey is pushing ahead with preparations for the new campaign despite warnings from the US and Russia.
Turkey has invaded and occupied areas in Syria four times since 2016; three of the interventions were directed against the Syrian-Kurdish militia YPG, which has set up an autonomous area along the Turkish border under US protection.
Washington regards the YPG as an indispensable partner in the fight against the Islamic State, but Turkey sees the Kurdish militia as a sister organization to the terrorist group PKK and thus as a threat to its national security. Turkey wants to create a 30-kilometer-deep “security zone” on Syrian territory for its own protection, says President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
The President also has domestic motives for the new invasion. He is stuck a year from the next election at a poll trough because of the ailing economy — military interventions in Syria have helped him rally voters in the past.
According to his plans, new settlements for Syrian refugees from Turkey could be built in newly conquered areas in Syria. Erdogan wants to settle a million Syrians from Turkey there. That could also help him in the elections.
Erdogan said on Wednesday that Turkey wanted to expel the YPG from Manbij and Tel Rifaat further west. On Friday, pro-Turkish militiamen shelled some villages near Manbij, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.
The news platform Middle East Monitor reported that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad had sent additional tank units to the YPG area near Tel Rifaat in anticipation of Turkish intervention.
Tensions are also growing elsewhere in the border region. In the past few days, four people have died in fighting in the Turkish-controlled Tel Abyad east of the Euphrates.
Erdogan says the new invasion could begin at any time, but an order to march in the coming days is unlikely: Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov is expected in Turkey on June 8.
The Russian news agency TASS quoted Deputy Foreign Minister Mikhail Bogdanov as saying that the announced Turkish intervention in Syria would be a topic of the visit.
Russia is Assad’s main partner and has troops stationed in Tel Rifaat, in Kamishli in eastern Syria and in the border town of Kobani. Moscow’s foreign ministry has demanded that Turkey abandon the new invasion and leave Assad’s troops to secure the border.
The USA also want to dissuade Erdogan from his plan. Foreign Minister Antony Blinken said an invasion would disrupt the fight against the Islamic State in Syria. The militia association Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), in which the YPG is the strongest faction, announced that it would not take any further action against the Islamic State in the event of a new Turkish attack.
So far, Erdogan has ignored objections from Russia and the US. Moscow is already isolated internationally because of the Ukraine war and will want to avoid a confrontation with Turkey.
Erdogan does not expect any major resistance from the West either, because Turkey is needed to settle the dispute over Finland and Sweden joining NATO, says Turkish political scientist Selcuk Aydin. The geopolitical weather situation is ideal for a Turkish invasion, Aydin wrote in an article for the Middle East Eye news platform.