Turkey's deputy prime minister has warned Syria of "disastrous consequences" should the Syrian government send forces to support Kurdish militias Ankara considers terrorist groups linked to an insurgency inside its own borders.
Bekir Bozdag made the comments following reports Monday by Syrian news agency SANA that forces loyal to the Syrian government would be deployed to the Kurdish-held region "within hours."
Bozdag called the reports "unconfirmed" and "unrealistic," according to Turkey's Anadolu state news agency, but added that "any decision by the Syrian regime to send forces in Afrin to support PYD/YPG terror organizations or any step taken in this direction will have disastrous consequences for the region."
Three Kurdish militia -- the Kurdish Democratic Union Party (PYD), the People's Protection Units (YPG) and the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) -- have borne the brunt of a month-long offensive Turkey launched in Afrin to clear the border of the Kurdish groups it considers to be terrorist organizations, along with ISIS militants still remaining on the battlefield.
On Monday, it appeared that the Kurdish factions had forged a new alliance with forces loyal to the Syrian government.
The potential deployment of pro-regime forces to Afrin to support the Kurdish militias in their fight against Ankara complicates an already fraught conflict in the Kurdish regions of northern Syria.
It essentially places the YPG -- allies with the US in the fight against ISIS -- on the same side as forces loyal to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, who the US opposes.
It was not immediately clear where or what type of forces the Syrian regime is deploying. Kurdish official Badran Jia Kurd said "army troops" would be deployed along the border based on an agreement between Damascus and Syrian Kurdish fighters, Reuters reported Sunday.
YPG officials refused to comment on the purported deal when contacted by CNN.
Turkey is staying put
Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said Monday Turkey has no intention of suspending operations in Afrin, and questioned the value of any Syrian government deployment to the area.
"If they do go in, what are they [the Syrian forces] going in to do? That is what is important. If the regime goes in to clear the PKK/YPG then there is no problem. But if the regime is going to protect the PKK/YPG then we, Turkey and Turkish soldiers, cannot be stopped," Cavusoglu said at a news conference in Amman.
Afrin has sustained relentless attacks from Turkey since January 20, when Ankara launched a campaign called Operation Olive Branch.
Turkey sees the quest by the Kurds -- who are spread out in Turkey, Syria, Iran and Iraq -- to establish an independent homeland as an existential threat to its territorial integrity. And Turkey has long warned that it will not tolerate YPG control of much of its border with Syria.
An estimated 16,000 people have been displaced by the fighting, which has been punctuated by relentless airstrikes and shelling, according to the United Nations.
A US announcement in mid-January that it would form a 30,000-strong Kurdish-led border force in northeastern Syria also sparked this heightened period of US-Turkey tension.
Pushing peace talks on the phone
According to a readout from the Kremlin, Russian President Vladimir Putin and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan discussed the Turkish operations in Afrin, but offered few details on Monday's call.
It also said that the Russian and Turkish leaders continued to promote their own Syrian peace talks effort -- together with Iran -- in Astana, Kazakhstan, over anything the UN-sponsored talks in Geneva might produce.
Noting the "positive dynamics in the development of Russian-Turkish cooperation," the Kremlin said that "special attention was paid to the further strengthening of the interaction in the Astana format."
"The readiness for close coordination of the efforts of Russia, Turkey and Iran was confirmed with a view to ensuring the effective functioning of the de-escalation zones and the promotion of the political process," the Kremlin statement said.
Last month, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov was heckled during his speech at a Russia-engineered peace conference at the Black Sea resort of Sochi. The conference was snubbed by many opposition figures, and some of those who actually attended walked out during Lavrov's address.
Organizers of the summit had hoped the talks would lead to a new draft constitution for Syria and bring an end to sanctions imposed on the state.