Turkey just received a huge 'political gift' -- but its opponents are warning it could lead to a 'big war'

Turkish prime minister Ahmet Davutoglu announced Thursday that the People’s Protections Unit (YPG), a Kurdish militia based in northern Syria, was responsible for Wednesday’s bombing in Ankara that killed 28 people.

“Yesterday’s attack was directly targeting Turkey and the perpetrator is the YPG and the divisive terrorist organisation PKK. All necessary measures will be taken against them,” Davutoglu said in a televised speech.

If Ankara has evidence that the YPG — the military wing of the Kurdish Democratic Union Party (PYD) — was behind the attack, it has not yet been released. A YPG leader, moreover, later denied responsibility for the blast and warned Ankara against launching a ground incursion into Syria.

Experts tend to agree, however, that blaming Syrian Kurds for the bombing was likely a way for Turkey and its ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) to justify its continued attacks on YPG positions in northern Syria — and signal that they will continue.

“While we have yet to see the supporting evidence, it is clear that the AKP will use the attack to try and erode the support of the United States for Kurdish fighting factions in Syria and to further justify strikes on Kurdish targets,” Jonathan Schanzer, vice president of the Foundation for Defence of Democracies, told Business Insider on Thursday.

He added: “This was undeniably a political gift for the AKP. Their goal has long been to challenge Western ties with the Kurds in Syria. This offers the AKP a justification.”

Aykan Erdemir, a senior fellow at the Foundation for Defence of Democracies, largely agreed.

“The Turkish government will have greater domestic and international legitimacy in attacking PYD positions in northern Syria,” Erdemir, a former member of Turkish parliament, told Business Insider by email.

“The bombing will pose a greater challenge to the US policy of differentiating the PYD from the [terrorist] PKK,” Erdermir said. “Turkey will continue to produce evidence implicating the PYD in the attack, making it more difficult for the US to continue working with a partner that has allegedly targeted a NATO ally.”

A ‘big war’

Davutoglu’s comments are especially poignant given a vow he made earlier this week: The government, he said, will not allow the strategic city of Azaz in northern Syria to fall to Kurdish YPG forces.

The Kurds have effectively cut off the route Turkey has long used to supply the Syrian rebels it supports in Aleppo with weapons and humanitarian aid. They are also making rapid territorial gains along Turkey’s southern border with the help of Russian airstrikes, which Ankara views as a threat to its sovereignty.

On Thursday, however, the Kurds raised the stakes further. An envoy of the group to Russia told Bloomberg that a “big war” would break out if Turkey decided to send troops into Syria.

“Russia will respond if there is an invasion,” Rodi Osman, the head of the Syrian Kurds’ newly opened office in Moscow, said in an interview. “This isn’t only about the Kurds. They will defend the territorial sovereignty of Syria.”

Russia, for its part, reiterated Thursday that it views “any incursion” into Syria as “illegal.”

Turkey’s battle against a YPG-linked Kurdish insurgency in the country’s southeast has undoubtedly influenced the government’s generally hostile stance toward the Kurds. But Ankara’s repeated claim that the YPG is not the West’s friend has gained support in light of the Kurds’ evolving political and military relationship with Russia in Syria.

The Obama administration has been struggling to balance its support for the YPG — an unofficial member of the anti-ISIS coalition — with its obligations to Turkey, a member of NATO.

To the US’ chagrin, however, YPG forces further west now appear to be actively coordinating with Russia to recapture territory taken by Syrian rebels fighting forces loyal to Syrian President Bashar Assad. That complicates Washington’s insistence that supporting the YPG-dominated SDF is key to defeating ISIS.

Erdemir, of the Foundation for the Defence of Democracies, noted that while the bombing in Ankara would give more “legitimacy” to a Turkish military incursion into Syria, it remains “relatively unlikely in the short term” that Turkey will send ground troops.

In any case, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan announced Thursday
that Turkey will continue to shell YPG positions — ignoring Washington’s earlier request that Turkey hold its fire against the US-backed Kurdish forces while it works to “de-escalate” the situation.

He also issued a veiled threat, likely directed at Washington: “Those who … back an organisation that is the enemy of Turkey, risk losing the title of being a friend of Turkey.”

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