A hard chess move

Wednesday, 2020-02-19 17:08:39
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NDO – Turkish diplomats have come to Moscow to negotiate with Russia on tensions in northwest Syria’s Idlib. Meanwhile, the Syrian government troops are winning brittle victories in attacks in order to control the last territory in the hands of the rebels, towards the complete liberation of Syria. The new developments on the “Syrian chess board” may pose a risk on cracking relations between Russia and Turkey.

Turkey urgently pressured Russia to act as an intermediary to ensure that the Syrian army enforces a deal to reduce tensions in Idlib. Due to disagreements on the issue of Syrian, Ankara and Moscow failed to reach a consensus in a phone conversation between Turkish President T. Erdogan and his Russian counterpart V. Putin, as well as a meeting between the two foreign ministers on the side-lines of the Munich Security Conference in Germany last weekend.

Turkey reaffirmed the need to reduce tensions in Idlib province, where the Syrian government troops are winning against the rebels. Ankara wants to fully implement the Sochi agreements it has reached with Russia to set up a demilitarised zone in Idlib. For Turkey, Idlib is not only a border province but also a “buffer zone” that helps Turkey consolidate its position in northwest Syria. Ankara currently operates 12 observation posts in Idlib to control Kurdish armed groups in Syria, which Turkey considers terrorists. Ankara is concerned that they may flee to Turkey during the Syrian government troops’ raids.

However, for Russia, which has supported the Syrian government forces in the fight against terrorism, the recent victory of the Syrian army in Idlib and Aleppo is a positive sign. The Russian Foreign Ministry called on Turkey to refrain from issuing provocative statements about developments in Syria as well as avoid giving confusing comments. The Kremlin said that Turkey disregarded the agreements signed with Russia on disabling rebel groups in Idlib. Russia also accused Turkey of not destroying rebel groups that are carrying out strikes against Russian and Syrian troops. Meanwhile, in the face of a rushing attack by the Russian-backed Syrian army targeting terrorist groups in Idlib, Turkey objected to the campaign and took military action in response. Ankara also said it would conduct air or ground strikes against Syrian forces, in case there was additional wounded Turkish soldiers during the Syrian forces’ acquisition of Idlib.

During a large-scale offensive in the north, the Syrian government forces hit the last rebel stronghold, recapturing key areas in the province of Idlib, especially the M5 motorway linking Aleppo with Damascus. After the recent victory, Aleppo International Airport in the city of the same name in northern Syria will be reopened to serve civilian flights for the first time since 2012. The Syrian Government army is currently restoring trade routes in Aleppo and completely controlling dozens of rural towns in north-western Aleppo as well as intensifying its campaign to fully liberate the northern province, wiping out rebel groups from their last stronghold in Syria. However, the Syrian government's military campaign is facing opposition from Turkey, which has also deployed forces to parts of northern Syria to support a number of rebel groups there with a reason to ensure border security and limit the flow of Syrian migrants into Turkey. Ankara has mobilised additional troops to Syria since there are ongoing forces retaliating against each other.

Both Turkey and Russia are facing a “hard chess move” as Ankara wants to settle with Russia over Syria because it does not want disagreements in this matter to affect the overall relations between the two countries, as well as agreements related to the purchase of the S-400 air defence systems between Ankara and Moscow. The situation is complicated when security in north-western Syria continues to be a matter for bargaining in the negotiations of the involved parties.