Erdogan's Visit to the US: Talks from the Position of Force

Support for Syrian Kurds and simultaneous desire to maintain relations with Turkey puts the United States in an extremely difficult position, Valdai Club experts believe. This duality will lead to the situation that instead of fighting against ISIS in Syria, Kurds and pro-Turkish forces will continue to fight against each other.

On Tuesday, May 16, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan begins his visit to the USA, which takes place on the background of contradictions’ escalation between the two countries after the recent decision of the President of the United States to supply weapons to Syrian Kurdish formations, fighting against the ISIS terrorist group (banned in Russia).

"This harms our strategic relations, I will talk about it at my meeting with Trump," Erdogan said last week at a press conference in Ankara.

Ankara's official position is that the Kurdish groups in Syria are linked to the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK), banned in Turkey, which is considered terrorist both by Ankara and Washington.

"For Turkey, the strengthening of any Kurds is negative," Viktor Nadein-Raevsky, researcher at the Institute of World Economy and International Relations (IMEMO) of the Russian Academy of Sciences, said in an interview with "Kurds - first of all, the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) – are considered enemies of Turkey, and if the Americans support them, they allegedly support the terrorist organization."

According to Nadein-Raevsky, the PKK fighters really do attacks against the Turkish military and police, as a rule, in the east of the country, but do not attack civilians. However, there are other organizations that do not adhere to such principles, for example, the "Kurdistan Freedom Falcons", which carried out terrorist attacks in Ankara and Istanbul.

"Why do Turks fear the autonomy of the Syrian Kurds?" "Because this could be an example for Turkish Kurds. And they consider the autonomy of the Turkish Kurds completely unacceptable and do not want to grant rights to the Kurdish population of Turkey," the expert said. "Therefore, the Turks press on the Americans, because they fear that American plans will allow the Kurds to gain strength in Syria, gain autonomy, and this will be an example for Turkish Kurds and a refuge for the Kurdistan Workers' Party formations."

Deliveries of US weapons to Syrian Kurds will not lead to radical changes on the battlefield, but they will seriously worsen American-Turkish relations, said Vladimir Yevseyev, head of the department for Eurasian integration and development of the SCO at the Institute of CIS countries. "They can contribute, for example, to the encirclement of Raqqa, but cannot lead to its liberation, because for this the Kurds need at least tanks. Such weapons are not supplied to Syrian Kurds, as well as the artillery, especially large-caliber one," the expert said in an interview with "Moreover, there is the possibility of Turkish air strikes against Syrian Kurds: in this situation they will demand from the US air defense systems, which the US cannot give them. A dilemma arises: on the one hand, Turkey is a member of NATO, on the other hand, Syrian Kurds are allies of the US to rely on."

The statement regarding the supply of weapons to the Kurds was not accidentally made on the eve of Erdogan's visit to Washington, Yevseyev said: in fact, it is an element of pressure on Erdogan to negotiate with him from a stronger position.

"I believe that the Turkish side will insist on stopping the US assistance to the Syrian Kurds. For them, this is an element of bargaining. But the fact is that on the ground the Americans have no one to rely on - only on the Syrian Kurds. And from this point of view, at least the misunderstanding between Ankara and Washington will remain, both on the issue of US arms supplies to Syrian Kurds, and on the issue of  Fethullah Gülen's extradition. These issues will remain unresolved and will create problems in Turkish-American relations", Yevseyev said.

The support of the Syrian Kurds simultaneously with the desire to maintain relations with Turkey, a key ally in NATO, puts the US in an extremely difficult position. "However, the Americans will continue to sit on two chairs. In fact, they block the expansion of the buffer zone, which they now control in Syria and which is in fact an occupation of the Syrian territory. But they cannot bet on Turkey or on the Syrian Kurds," Yevseyev said.

"This duality will lead to the fact that, first, instead of fighting against ISIS, the Syrian Kurds and pro-Turkish forces will fight against each other for control, in particular, over the buffer zone. Second, the United States will find itself in a rather vulnerable position, and under these conditions it will need Russian support very much - in particular, for the liberation of the city of Raqqa," the expert concluded.

Views expressed are of individual Members and Contributors, rather than the Club's, unless explicitly stated otherwise.