After the Sochi agreement between Turkey and Russia, Ankara's hand strengthened in the Syria equilibrium. Not only did this agreement bring prestige for saving 3.5 million people from a tyrannous operation, it also offered the opportunity for attentions to be focused once again on another region. What we mean by another region is the east of the Euphrates.
The logic of countries works similar to people. When you make a gain somewhere, you consider what comes next. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan pointed to the east of the Euphrates with the statement he made on the first day of his U.S. trip.
He said, "God willing, in the upcoming period, we are going to continue to increase the number of safe zones within Syria, including the east of the Euphrates."
As the Turkish public's attention turned to the west of the Euphrates in recent months, due to Operation Olive Branch on Afrin and the Idlib threat, the occurrences in the east of the river took a backseat. In this circumstance, it will help to remember what happened in that region in the past year.
In the telephone conversation between Erdoğan and U.S. President Donald Trump in November 2017, Trump had guaranteed that the Kurdistan Workers' Party's (PKK) Syria branch, the People's Protection Units (YPG) would no longer be given weapons. He also clearly stated in the following days in one of his famous tweets that they would be pulling back their troops in Syria.
'Back to square one after Israel and Saudi Arabia stepped in'
Yet, later Trump turned back on both the promises he made. Making a complete U-turn, just as he gave up on the idea of withdrawing his troops from Syria, he also restarted arms shipments to the YPG. Since there isn’t a Daesh threat left in that area, you might ask why he is insistently supporting the PKK. There is nothing easier than finding excuses for the U.S. And now they have started to say Iran.
According to a figure who has an active position in Ankara's decision-making mechanisms, there are two countries keeping the U.S. in Syria despite Trump's unwillingness to be there. One is Saudi Arabia, and the other is Israel. Trump's "money-focused" view of matters was resolved with Saudi Arabia "pushing the boat out." The Riyadh administration took on the cost of the operations carried out on the east of the Euphrates. And so Trump said, "Since you are going to foot the bill, let's stay."
The biggest threat to Turkey's future is coming from the east of the Euphrates
If we were to ask where the biggest threat to Turkey will come from in the near future and how it will come about, the PKK/YPG formation to the east of the Euphrates is still the number one threat. There is a mind and this mind does not want to give up the idea of establishing a “PKK state” there under any circumstances. In the continuation of the game plan that that mind is trying to carry on, it is no longer a secret that there is an intention to break off part of the lands that belong to Turkey and join it to that project. Everything becomes clear when you look at the map. If you look at the Turkey symmetry of the territory we call east Euphrates, the project we are talking about sticks out like a sore thumb.
A rehearsal of this was already made in summer 2015. The fundamental motivation between the trench terror in the southeast was nothing other than carrying the "Rojava project" in Syria to Turkish territory. But as we said, there is no guarantee that such attempts will no longer happen.
What could happen in east Euphrates?
We know that Turkey conducted an operation in the area we call the east of Euphrates, even if it was once. I am talking about the Karaçok operation that was conducted on the night of April 23, 2017 with more than 40 F-16 war jets. The operation was like a night raid that showed that the PKK/YPG formation on Syrian territory "has no immunity." It may very well come up on the agenda again through the same method.
Also, we are witnessing Russia take a stance close to Turkey for the first time after the Sochi agreement, in the context of the east of the Euphrates. Let's pay attention to Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov's statement from last week:
"The main threat targeting Syria's territorial integrity comes from the east of the Euphrates, where independent autonomous structures are being physically established under direct U.S. control."
What does this mean? Could it mean that the Damascus regime may take action against the PKK/YPG upon Russia's signal? It is not impossible. In the new equilibrium, this formation in the east of the Euphrates may become targeted not only by Turkey but also the Damascus regime.