In Ankara, the signs are high: in the middle of the dispute over Finland and Sweden joining NATO, the Turkish President is presenting his goals for a military offensive in northern Syria. Even in the dispute with Athens, Erdogan is upping the ante again.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has set targets for a possible military operation in northern Syria. Turkey wants to start a "new phase" and "cleanse" the towns of Tall Rifat and Manbij from "terrorists" from the Syrian Kurdish militia YPG, Erdogan said. Thereafter, other regions should also be included "gradually". Erdogan had already threatened a new Turkish military operation in the neighboring country last week, which could lead up to 30 kilometers into Syrian territory.
Previous Turkish military operations in Syria were primarily directed against the YPG. The government in Ankara regards the militia as an offshoot of the banned Kurdish Workers' Party PKK and also as a terrorist organization. The USA, on the other hand, sees the YPG as a partner in the fight against the terrorist militia Islamic State (IS) in the Syrian civil war. The Kurdish militia announced that it would stop fighting IS in the event of a Turkish attack. The YPG then wants to direct its "military measures" against the Turkish invasion instead, as the spokesman for the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) in Syria, which is led by Kurdish militias, said.
Turkey is currently blocking the admission of Finland and Sweden to NATO, accusing both countries of supporting the PKK and YPG. "Anyone who hands over weapons and equipment to the terrorist organization free of charge, which they withhold from Turkey despite payment, deserves the title of a terrorist state, not a rule of law," said Erdogan.
Sweden's Foreign Minister Ann Linde meanwhile denied that her country had supplied Swedish anti-tank weapons to Kurds. Referring to a statement from the Swedish Agency for Strategic Products (ISP) that she circulated on Twitter, she wrote that Sweden had not granted export licenses for military equipment to Kurdish units. NATO partners such as Germany, but also other EU countries such as Sweden, partially stopped arms deliveries to the country in 2019 in protest against Turkey's offensive against the YPG in northern Syria. Turkey also wants to buy F-16 fighter jets from the USA - but a possible deal was recently politically controversial in Washington.
Amid rising tensions between Turkey and Greece, Erdogan canceled an agreement with Athens. There will be "no more bilateral meetings" with leading Greek politicians because they are "not honest," Erdogan said in a speech to his AKP party's faction in the Turkish parliament. Erdogan said of Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis, without mentioning him by name: "He's traveling to the United States, he's speaking against us in Congress. We're fed up with it now." Addressing Greece, he added: "Don't you dare get involved in a dance with Turkey. You'd just get tired and fall by the wayside."
The tone between the two countries had recently intensified due to various issues. Last week, the Turkish president was outraged by a warning from Greece about arms sales in the region and canceled strategic talks with Athens. Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis had previously warned of instability in the eastern Mediterranean during a visit to Washington - this should be considered when deciding on arms sales in the region. It was not until mid-March that the two countries decided, after the start of the Russian war against Ukraine, that they wanted to improve their heavily strained relations. In recent weeks, Greece has increasingly voiced sharp criticism of Turkish fighter jets flying over Greek islands in the eastern Aegean. Turkey, for its part, has denied the allegations, claiming that Athens is trying to create a "misperception" about Turkey.
When asked about Erdogan's comments, the Greek Foreign Ministry spokesman said Greece would not go personal. The dialogue with Turkey is still desired, but always on the basis of international law, said Alexandros Papaioannou. "We are reacting calmly and calmly (...) and at the same time informing our colleagues and allies about the incidents."