Turkish-US relations on tenterhooks as US Congress authorizes PYD use of MANPADs
by Merve Aydoğan
ANKARADec 10, 2016 - 12:00 am GMT+3
by Merve Aydoğan
Dec 10, 2016 12:00 am
Regardless of Ankara's repeated expression of concerns over the U.S arming of the terrorist PKK's Syrian offshoot the Democratic Union Party (PYD) and its armed wing the People's Protection Units (YPG) in Syria, the U.S. Congress has given the U.S. president-elect Donald Trump administration the authority to transfer Man-Portable Air Defense Systems (MANPADs) to so-called Syrian rebels, including the PKK-affiliate PYD. In discussions on the matter, experts have stressed the high likelihood of deterioration of Turkish-U.S. relations while noting that the recent move will give the "upper hand" to the PYD against Turkish airstrikes and those of other countries in the combat zone.
On the other hand, Russia's Foreign Minister Dmitry Peskov has expressed his concern regarding the U.S. congressional authorization, which gives President Trump the authority to send surface-to-air missiles to the U.S.'s so-called Syrian "rebels." The Kremlin also warned of the risks associated with placing MANPADs in the hands of terrorists, calling the move a "regional and global threat." Foreign Minister Peskov said yesterday that, "The worst potential outcome of this decision would be terrorists coming into possession of various types of armaments, including portable anti-aircraft rockets and shoulder-launched missiles. This will run counter to international conventions, posing a serious threat not only to the region [but to the world]. If terrorists were to gain access to shoulder-launched missiles, the world would be in grave danger." On that note, SETA Foundation Foreign Policy Director Ufuk Ulutaş has previously stated that "While the bill poses complications for Russia as well, it is definitely to Turkey's disadvantage."
"The U.S. has made an enormous investment in the PYD despite the risk of deteriorating relations with its Turkish ally. Therefore, in efforts to maintain U.S. interests across Syria and to support the strategic positioning of the U.S. in the region, the PYD is the only candidate to achieve that goal on the ground. "The U.S. will continue to [provide] this support," Ulutaş added. While U.S. sources have indicated that certain restrictions are in place regarding the transfer of such controversial weaponry to the PYD, a SETA expert stated that the bill "Allows the U.S. to pass through restricted YPD airspace, over the Turkish military presence and the Assad regime's aerial defense mechanisms." Continuing on to note that there is a possibility that U.S. president-elect Donald Trump will exercise this authorization right, Ulutaş told Daily Sabah that "While it is not certain, his [Trump's] administration may exercise this right for two reasons; the first one being emotional and the second being strategic. Emotionally, the U.S. populace has generally accepted the YPG/PYD as an ally, providing it support under this perspective. Strategically, PYD is the only actor the U.S. can use on the ground since it no longer works with the moderate opposition or Turkey."
Ulutaş underlined that providing the PKK-affiliate PYD with MANPADs will definitely change the dynamics on the ground, while an academic in the International Relations Department at Kültür University Bora Bayraktar also stressed that such armament is going to give the PYD the advantage on the ground: "It will definitely give an upper-hand to the PYD and have a negative effect on Turkish aerial operations and those of other countries. These weapons will also further thicken the darkness and fog in the region," Bayraktar added. Analogous to Ulutaş, Bayraktar stressed that the recently approved bill is unacceptable from a Turkish perspective since Ankara recognizes the PYD as a terrorist organization and an affiliate of the PKK.