Turkish news channels ran a countdown clock at the top of their screens to let the country know when the ceasefire in northern Syria would end. Military and political commentators tried to outdo each other's prognostications about what would come out of the meeting between Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his Russian counterpart, Vladimir Putin, in the city of Sochi. In the end, the presidents spent six hours discussing their path forward in northern Syria.
Ultimately, the deal they struck is a win for Erdogan. His stated goal at the launch of "Operation Peace Spring" was to create a buffer zone 30 kilometers (18 miles) wide along Turkey's border with Syria. Turkish and Russian troops have begun conducting joint patrols east and west of the current theater of operations.
Erdogan had received the green light to send his troops into northern Syria from both US President Donald Trump and Putin. The president had wanted his buffer zone at all costs, and now he has been given it. At the moment, it doesn't really matter if it will stretch along the entire 400-kilometer border or only for 120 kilometers of it, as is currently being negotiated.
Erdogan builds buffer
Trump's decision to remove US troops from Syria opened the gates for Erdogan. The Kurdish People's Protection Units (YPG) had been essential to the United States in the fight against the Islamic State group over the past several years. And there is also no doubt that most IS fighters had been driven from the region through their efforts. Speculation as to when the next Turkish military operation would commence has been a constant topic of discussion in Ankara.
The YPG — which Erdogan accuses of collaborating with the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK), deemed a terror organization by his government and others — could not stand up to Turkey's military. Per Erdogan and Putin, the YPG now have until October 29 to move forces 30 kilometers (18 miles) deeper into Syria and away from the border with Turkey.
Erdogan intends to settle mainly Arab Syrians who have fled to Turkey during the eight-year civil war in his buffer zone. There has been little discussion about where the Kurds who have made their homeland there are supposed to go.
A domestic hit
Support for Erdogan's offensive, which began on October 9, has been broad within Turkey. By setting his army in motion, Erdogan has also successfully split the domestic political opposition. Even the Republican People's Party (CHP), the largest opposition party, has seen fit to show support for Turkey's soldiers. The Peoples' Democratic Party, which advocates for Kurds and other marginalized groups within Turkey, (HDP) was, of course, against the incursion.
There is no longer a unified opposition within Turkey, where Kurds face violent attacks and attitudes toward refugees from Syria are becoming more hostile by the day. Erdogan has not only marshaled the support of religious conservatives, but also of secular Turks, who see no greater goal than to maintain the country's territorial integrity.
Ultimately, Erdogan has succeeded in diverting attention away from the poverty and high unemployment at home.