For almost a decade now, the Syrian civil war, one of the longest conflicts in recent history, has been a challenge for Turkey, a country that has paid a tremendous price more than any other regional or international actors.
Not only is Turkey serving as a warm home to those four million Syrians who had to flee their country, but it is also struggling on the field and will continue to do so in order to establish the necessary security conditions for their return home. It is also striving to eliminate the threats of the terror corridor that is being formed by the PKK's Syrian affiliate, the People's Protection Units (YPG), in northern Syria.
Meanwhile, as all these developments are taking place, the slow steps of both Russia and the U.S. in the face of existing agreements in recent periods – and their expectation of Turkey's concession to their expectations – is considerably troubling Ankara. Despite the fact that in international relations, eminent countries are expected to follow the obligations of agreements and their implementation in the field, both of these allies of Turkey seem to have forgotten this fact when it comes to deals over Syria.
Turkey has repeatedly explained to Russia that the situation in Idlib is not only an issue of significance for Ankara and Moscow, but also for the return of Syrians and the country's territorial integrity. Still, the regime's attacks to gain control of this region have not ceased.
The primary issue on the agenda when President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and Russian leader Vladimir Putin met in Moscow this week was the situation of Idlib, which came as no surprise. Putin's somewhat "emergency" invitation came following Erdoğan's firm message: "We will not hesitate to give the necessary response," which he said regarding the harassment fire on a Turkish observation point that is secured by the Astana initiative.
Through this meeting, Ankara has once again conveyed its demand in person that Moscow to abide by the Sochi agreement in Idlib. However, this will not be the only meeting that the two countries have as Erdoğan and Putin will come together at the summit in Ankara on Sept. 16. Moscow's determination and consistency regarding the agreement will be closely followed by Ankara until this date since the security violation targeting Turkey's observation points and the de-escalation in Idlib is also a threat to Aleppo, Jarabulus, Azaz and neighboring regions. Another major concern in the region for Turkey is the safe zone agreement with the U.S. on the YPG terror corridor east of the Euphrates, which Turkey sees as another threat to its national security. The plan seems to be progressing without any major problems for now.
However, Turkey has known about the U.S. policy reversals for a considerable amount of time. So Turkey predicts that Washington's frequently voiced message, "Turkey has always been a significant strategic partner of ours" can reverse in a single day and that Washington can resort to a process of delaying while while trying to implent tactical changes that would not be approved by Turkey. Even though news indicating that the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) formed by the YPG have started to withdraw from the border and that heavy weapons were drawn back and tunnels were destroyed after the agreement of the U.S. and Turkey, it is crucial for Ankara that the Turkish military presence is established without problems and in time with the envisaged depth and width up to Manbij, Ayn al-Arab and the northern Iraqi border. On his way back to Turkey after his visit to Russia, Erdoğan also confirmed that the YPG are just pretending to withdraw from areas near the Turkish border and only a small portion of them have actually retreated. Erdoğan also reiterated that Turkey would not accept stalling on the plan, such as in Manbij, where Ankara accused Washington of delaying. "We will never allow the east bank of the Euphrates to become a safe haven for YPG terrorists," Erdoğan underlined.
This is the exact reason why there is a strong feeling that Ankara will probably make its presence known in the field as it did in Operation Euphrates Shield and Operation Olive Branch against the possibility of giving reciprocal concessions, being delayed or promises not being fulfilled. Last weekend, joint patrol helicopter flights along the border with the U.S. started. On the other side, Turkey's military deliveries and cross-border deployments continue intensely.
Within this scope, during the celebrations for the 948th anniversary of the Battle of Manzikert (Malazgirt) and in his return from Moscow, Erdoğan said, "We expect our ground troops to enter the region very soon." The president's statement has to be taken seriously in this regard. It is of importance to remind readers of the emphasis in Erdoğan's message during last Qurban Bayram (Eid al-Adha), saying that Turkey has won numerous victories in the month of August. This day, which is one of the last days of August and especially on the anniversary of the Aug. 30 Victory Day, can be seen as a hint signaling the day Turkey will enter the area east of the Euphrates, fighting for the millions of Syrians who were forced to leave their homes and their country. In this way, and by helping end the Syrian crisis, Turkey's projected successful operation east of the Euphrates is likely to be one of the greatest gifts in the history of humanity.