The side effects of the war in Ukraine are many, but one that is among the most significant is the way Turkey has taken advantage of the West’s desire to bolster his deterrent capabilities by stepping up the crackdown on Kurdish nationalists. Ankara’s opposition to the rapid accession of Sweden and Finland to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) must be seen in this context, as it simultaneously increases military and political pressure on the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), the insurgent group that has fought the Turkish state for five decades to win greater rights for Turkey’s Kurds. According to West Asia expert Ranj Aladdin, the PKK experienced a rapid rise with the start of the Syrian civil war and Washington’s decision in 2014 to join forces with its sister organization to defeat the Islamic State (IS) group. ). The Kurdish issue has been a major component of Turkey’s relations with the European Union and the United States for decades.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has of course launched several military campaigns in northeast Syria to suppress the autonomous enclave of the PKK’s sister organization, the People’s Protection Units (YPG), formed during the civil war. . Aladdin points out that Turkey may well block NATO membership applications from Sweden and Finland pending Western support for its policy of cracking down on the Kurdish insurgency. President Erdogan is also believed to be trying to extract other concessions from the West, including the lifting of embargoes on the Turkish defense industry, as the price for his support for NATO’s northern expansion plans.
Ankara’s opposition to Sweden’s and Finland’s NATO membership is officially based on both countries’ refusal to extradite PKK members and supporters of Islamist cleric Fethullah Gülen, placing the Kurdish question at the center of West-Turkey relations. But is the EU-US partnership willing to sacrifice both the Kurds and the fight against ISIS as it recalibrates its security interests in the wake of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine? After all, the former allows the West to clip Turkey’s wings as its alleged human rights abuses against the Kurdish minority are regularly brought to light, and the latter’s ideology is an existentialist threat to The Western world. Turkey’s conflict with the PKK has long played spoilsport in its relations with Europe and America, and geopolitical fluxes in West Asia after the 2011 uprisings in the Arab world had already complicated matters. Today, the secondary effects of the Ukrainian conflict are also part of the game. This means for the Kurds that the hope generated after the 2013 peace process between Turkey and the PKK ~ which was running out of steam anyway following the rise of the YPG in Syria ~ is now definitely a thing of the past.
Ankara, which is already getting closer to Russia as evidenced by its purchase of Russian air defense systems, would have made it clear to its Western interlocutors that its security concerns are paramount. Defeating the Kurds remains at the heart of this program. It is up to the West to decide how to reinforce its deterrence by acting via NATO both in the north (Nordic) and in the south (Turkish) of the European continent.