Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has warned his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin that Syria will face ‘consequences’ if it wades into Turkey’s offensive in Afrin.
Erdogan told Putin that Turkey’s military operation in the northern Syrian Kurdish enclave will continue as planned during a phone call between the two leaders.
The pair spoke amid reports that Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad’s regime has agreed to support Kurdish fighters and that government forces would be entering Afrin ‘within hours’.
Russia first intervened in Syria in 2015 by backing Assad with air strikes that targeted both ISIS and other jihadists as well as rebels fighting government troops.
Turkey, meanwhile, is attempting to clear the Kurdish People’s Protection Units YPG from territory along its border. Ankara sees the group as a terrorist offshoot of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), blacklisted by the United States and the European Union.
Syrian state media stated.today that Assad’s forces will ‘bolster’ local forces in confronting Turkish ‘aggression’. This suggested the Syrian government and YPG militia had struck a deal aimed at repelling an ongoing Turkish offensive on the area.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has warned his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin that Syria will face ‘consequences’ if it wades into Turkey’s offensive in Afrin. There has been an ongoing Turkish offensive on the area (pictured) in recent weeks
The Syrian region of Afrin, which borders Turkey, is held by the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) and has faced a month-old assault by Ankara and allied Syrian rebels
This morning, Turkey’s foreign minister, Mevlut Cavusoglu, warned that ‘no-one can stop us’ as he insisted that his country was ready to battle Assad’s forces if necessary.
He stated that ‘if the regime is entering to protect the YPG, then no one can stop us, stop Turkey or the Turkish soldiers.’
‘Popular forces will arrive in Afrin within a few hours to support its people’s stand against the Turkish regime’s attack on the area and its people,’ Syrian state news agency SANA said, citing its correspondent in Aleppo.
SANA stated.the forces would ‘join the resistance against the Turkish aggression’.
‘This comes in the framework of supporting residents and defending the territorial unity and sovereignty of Syria,’ the agency added.
The Syrian region of Afrin, which borders Turkey, is held by the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) and has faced a month-old assault by Ankara and allied Syrian rebels.
Turkey sees the YPG’s presence on its southern border as a direct threat, and observers have noted it would be more comfortable with a regime force deployed there.
Mevlut Cavusoglu (pictured) warned that ‘no-one can stop us’ as it was announced that pro-Syrian government forces will begin entering the Kurdish enclave of Afrin ‘within hours’
Turkish soldiers inspect a tunnel in the hunt for PKK members at the Burseya Mountain as part of ‘Operation Olive Branch’ launched in Syria’s Afrin
The Afrin operation, dubbed ‘Olive Branch,’ has seen Ankara deploy ground troops and pound the region with air strikes and artillery fire.
YPG spokesman Birusk Hasakeh could not immediately confirm the deployment of regime-affiliated forces on Monday.
Syrian government forces withdrew from Kurdish-majority areas across the country’s north in 2012, paving the way for Kurdish authorities to implement de facto self-rule.
But negotiations have been ongoing for a potential return of government-affiliated forces to the enclave, officials have said.
Heve Mustafa, the co-chair of Afrin’s executive council, told AFP on Sunday that talks on the subject were ongoing.
‘These talks are happening on the military level,’ she said.
Last week, YPG chief Sipan Hamo told journalists his forces would have ‘no problem’ with Damascus intervening to help repel Turkey’s assault.
‘We don’t have a problem with the entry of the Syrian army to defend Afrin and its border in the face of the Turkish occupation,’ Hamo said.
Ankara sees the YPG as a ‘terror’ group and the Syrian arm of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), which has fought a decades-long insurgency against the Turkish state. Pictured a Turkish strike on a suspected PKK headquarters
But Kurdish officials have remained vague on what kind of regime deployment they would accept in Afrin.
Mustafa’s co-chair in Afrin, Othman Al-Sheikh Issa, told AFP last month that Damascus should intervene to stop Turkish warplanes flying overhead.
State media did not elaborate on the make-up of the ‘popular forces’ due to enter Afrin on Monday and made no mention of regular army troops being deployed.
Damascus has denounced Ankara’s ‘aggression’ but until Monday had not explicitly stated.it would intervene.
Turkey and allied rebels launched the offensive on January 20 in a bid to clear the YPG from territory along the border.
The assault has brought to the surface the complex and competing interests of world powers embroiled in Syria’s seven-year conflict.
Ankara sees the YPG as a ‘terror’ group and the Syrian arm of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), which has fought a decades-long insurgency against the Turkish state.
The United States – Turkey’s NATO ally – has allied with the YPG elsewhere in Syria, providing it with arms and other support to fight the Islamic State jihadist group.
Regime ally Russia had also directly supported the YPG in Afrin, training Kurdish forces there before withdrawing as Turkey announced its assault last month.