25 February 2020 — InfoRos
Ankara faces a deadlock and tries to save its face amid a sour game in Idlib
Yuri Veselov, military observer
In the west and south of the Aleppo province, a counter-offensive by government forces pushed the enemy back to a distance that no longer allows them to carry out shell attacks on the administrative capital’s residential areas. The army firmly holds the line from northeastwards and gradually grinds the groups of Muslim extremists.
The Turkish general staff is urgently strengthening its forces in the Idlib province with personnel and military equipment, creating new strongholds. According to Syrian military intelligence, as of February 24, 36 fortified strongholds have been deployed in the Idlib de-escalation zone that remains controlled by the Turks. 7,500 troops, about 100 tanks, 80 artillery systems, and more than 200 armored personnel carriers and armored vehicles have been brought to the area. About three thousand transport convoys with equipment, ammunition and other military means have passed the Syrian border.
The increasing number of armed clashes between the Turkish and Syrian armies, in which both sides suffer losses, is a threatening factor. Over this period, 16 Turkish soldiers were killed.
The Syrians respond to Recep Tayyip’s Erdogan ultimatum demanding that the Syrian command withdraw its troops from the borders of the “Idlib zone” by preparing another offensive against the enemy to establish total control over the highway between Aleppo and Latakia and seize the major stronghold of Jisr al-Shughur. Ankara is threatening to launch a full-scale military operation against government forces after the ultimatum expires in February.
Moscow reacted quite harshly to Ankara’s statements and actions: a possible military operation was said to be the worst option as to the Syrian developments. An additional measure to sober the Turks up was the performance of the Russian air force – over the past week, Russian warplanes twice dealt heavy blows to militant positions in the province of Aleppo and once in front of a column of Turkish troops in Idlib.
Three rounds of Turkish-Russian negotiations at the level of military and diplomatic missions ended indecisively. The parties differed in their assessments of the current situation in the conflict zone and further moves for its final settlement.
Recep Erdogan held a telephone conversation with French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel, trying to ensure support against Russia’s stance and probable military actions against Syria. Nothing came of it.
On February 21, the Turkish leader had a conversation with President Vladimir Putin. Judging by Moscow’s dry statement, the dialogue did not bring satisfaction to Erdogan: Turkey’s open support for armed groups of extremists and the Syrian opposition contradicts all the agreements reached in Astana and Sochi, while a significantly increased military presence in the north-west of Syria creates a real threat of an armed conflict escalation. Apparently, the Turkish President was openly told about this.
As for Turkey’s proposal to hold four-party talks at the highest level in early March, not everything is clear on the issue. The Russian Foreign Ministry limited its comments to a formal statement about considering the Turkish proposal. In fact, this may imply that such a meeting is useless because of the unaddressed radical contradictions (not disagreements) between Ankara and Moscow.
Erdogan’s position can be compared to being torn between a rock and a hard place. Failing to cause hysterical concern in Damascus and Moscow or to enjoy widespread appreciation in Turkey itself, the bellicose rhetoric against the leadership of Syria (consider Russia) gradually reduces his personal authority and that of the ruling Justice and Development Party.
Erdogan needs to break the deadlock he has created, with dignity and painlessly for him personally. And Vladimir Putin is the one to help his Turkish counterpart. As before, by the virtue of sincere trust and respect.
Without this, any negotiations will fall flat.