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The U.S. has rejected Turkey’s demand to establish a safe zone that would extend 25 to 30 kilometers into Syria. And it is demanding a Turkish commitment not to attack the Kurdish forces (which Ankara views as a terrorist organization affiliated with the PKK). To put additional pressure on Washington, Erdogan has threatened to “open the gates” – or in other words, to let the approximately four million refugees living in Turkey cross the border into Europe, thereby ending the refugee deal that Ankara signed with the European Union in 2016.
A safe zone
Last week Turkish President Erdogan said , “We’re determined to establish a safe zone east of the Euphrates River by the last week of September,”
Erdogan added: “The ideal situation is that we’ll do this with our American friends, but if we don’t reach understandings, we’ll start by ourselves. Our goal is to resettle a million Syrian refugees in the safe zone, along 450 kilometers of the [Turkish-Syrian] border.”
He continued, “Either this will happen, or we’ll have to open the gates. Either you will provide us with support, or excuse us, but we are not going to carry this weight alone.”
After weeks of bitter disputes with the U.S. administration, the Turks have reached some preliminary understandings with the Americans. This month, they began joint patrols in the area designated for the security zone. Washington is trying to block Ankara’s plan by demanding that the safe zone should be much narrower, not to prevent the Kurds from managing their own fragment the Kurdish area into small enclaves that aren’t adjacent to their territory.
What if Erdogan sends his army?
The Turkish army is already deployed along the Syrian border. Theoretically Erdogan can send his army, to seize the territory of the security zone and then start sending refugees there from Turkey.
Washington has no plan prepared for a similar scenario. The US already revealed its weakness Ankara’s deal to buy S-400 missile batteries from Russia, was implemented without Turkey suffering from a serious sanctions by the US. The United States is trying to reduce its military presence in Middle Eastern fronts. They won’t launch a military conflict to stop Turkey’s takeover of parts of Syria.
Things are not well in Ankara
In the face of an economic downturn and signs of the political demise of his Justice and Development Party (AKP), Erdogan wants to negotiate as is seeking help. He is under economic pressure, and any sign that the EU is open to maintaining a partnership would help Turkish financial markets.
Erdogan’s legal advisors are trying to find a formula that would enable them to force out Istanbul Mayor Ekrem Imamoglu, whose election was a slap in the face to Erdogan.
Yet, what Erdogan is mostly looking for is military control of the Kurdish territories. Despite the EU has warned him against doing so. He is most likely not worried about Europe’s opinion currently, given his threats to flood European cities with a large number of refugees is within reach.
Erdogan is set to host his Russian and Iranian counterparts Putin and Rouhani in Ankara to discuss developments in Syria. To enable the Turkish president to blackmail Europeans yet again, would be the worst possible outcome for Syrian refugees.