The dispute within Nato over Turkey’s invasion of northern Syria escalated on Friday when the Turkish president, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, responded to criticism from the French president, Emmanuel Macron, by saying that Macron needed to check whether he was brain dead.
Claiming Macron was inexperienced and did not know what terror was, Erdoğan said Macron’s criticisms of the Turkish invasion reflected “a sick and shallow understanding”.
He also warned Macron against any attempt to expel Turkey from Nato, saying it was not up to the French president.
There is no provision within Nato for one of its members to be expelled.
The row between the two men was sparked when Macron said in an Economist interview that he feared Nato’s “brain death”, citing the lack of coordination between Nato allies over Turkey’s “crazy” invasion of Kurdish territories in Syria on 9 October.
Without consulting Nato allies, Donald Trump gave Turkey a green light to start the invasion, a move that has led to widespread violence, a humanitarian catastrophe and a strengthening of the positions of both Russia and the Syrian regime of Bashar al-Assad. It has also diverted Kurdish fighters away from operations combatting Islamic State.
The US president, under huge domestic and political pressure, has held back from withdrawing all remaining US troops from north-east Syria, and instead tried to negotiate a halt to Turkish activity. Turkey’s operation seems to be on hold, except for clashes in two strategic towns, Tal Tamr and Ain Issa.
Leading European powers, the UK, France and Germany, will meet with Erdoğan in Downing Street on Tuesday ahead of the main Nato leaders’ meeting on Wednesday. Trump is not due to attend, although he is scheduled to be in London.
But Erdoğan said in advance of the meeting: “I’m addressing Mr Macron from Turkey and I will say it at Nato: you should check whether you are brain dead first.”
He added: “It’s not up to Macron to discuss whether Turkey should stay in Nato or should be expelled.”
“I have explained to him the threats we are facing from Syria many times. But he never understood. Believe me, he is so inexperienced. He does not know what the fight against terror is. That’s why the ‘yellow vests’ [Gilet Jaunes] movement has occupied almost all of France. He failed to deliver the right of his own citizens.”
Erdoğan also questioned the motives behind the French military presence in Syria: “What are you doing there? You have no right to be present there. You have not been invited by the regime either.”
Europe has been unable to deliver a no-fly zone across northern Syria, and plans for a European force floated by the German defence ministry have not come to fruition.
Erdoğan believes the Kurdish YPG, the backbone of the US-backed local forces that defeated Isis in northern Syria, are synonymous with what he regards as Kurdish terror groups operating inside Turkey.
He wants a statement from Nato condemning the YPG as a terrorist organisation, and will veto a separate Nato strategy aimed at combatting Russia in the Baltics unless he has Nato’s endorsement of his strategy.
Erdoğan also warned the US and Russia, with which Turkey made two separate conditional agreements for the termination of its military operations against the YPG in north-east Syria. The deal required a withdrawal of YPG troops from certain areas, and Erdoğan said he cannot tolerate the current impasse forever.
Erdoğan believes he can isolate Macron at the summit, pointing to indications of support from the UK and Germany. Dominic Raab, the UK foreign secretary, said the UK had advised Turkey against its invasion due to the humanitarian consequences, but said it would be a major strategic blunder to drive Turkey into the arms of Russia.