Why didn’t Putin and Erdoğan discuss Idlib?
The Russian-backed Syrian regime forces’ military operation into the demilitarized zone of Idlib has taken a new turn since early June. In addition to targeting civilian positions, such as schools and hospitals, with an objective of kicking a new refugee influx towards the Turkish border, they are aiming at the Turkish observation posts in the enclave.
On June 6 and 8, the regime forces organized minor attacks on Turkey’s No. 9 observation point in the Murak province in the Idlib region. The size and scope of the attack was visibly intensified on June 13 as the regime forces targeted Turkey’s No. 10 observation post near Mount Zawiyah involving 35 mortar shells that slightly injured three Turkish troops.
Turkey’s Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu vowed that Turkey will retaliate against the regime forces if these attacks continue, while recalling that it was the responsibility of Russia and Iran to exert efforts to urge Damascus to stop violating the truce in the zone.
On June 14, before his departure to Dushanbe, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan reiterated Ankara’s determination not to leave unanswered anymore potential attacks by Syria on Turkish troops. On June 15, Erdoğan had a chance to hold bilateral talks both with Russian President Vladimir Putin and Iranian President Hasan Rouhani, his allies under the Astana Process.
On his return from the summit, Erdoğan answered questions from journalists who were traveling with him and wanted to learn whether the recent attacks by the Syrian army came to the fore in the president’s meetings with Putin and Rouhani.
“To be honest, we have not broached the subject of Idlib with Putin and Rouhani today, because the Idlib issue is constantly followed by our friends and those who are tasked by Russia on the same issue. The ceasefire is brokered, but there might be some dissident voices. I consider (the recent attacks) as such,” Erdoğan stressed.
He explained that Putin does not welcome the breach of the ceasefire and does not approve the regime’s moves while praising his cooperation with the Russian President in resolving such difficulties. “At this point, relations with Russia are going very well. It would be better that such problems do not exist, but unfortunately they do happen,” he added.
Quite interestingly, as Erdoğan’s words have appeared in the Turkish media early June 16, the Turkish Defense Ministry announced another attack by the regime forces against Turkey’s No. 9 observation post. The ministry said the attack was deliberate and damaged the military equipment without any casualties. The Turkish military retaliated against the regime forces by using heavy artillery and informed the Russian authorities over the development.
It goes without saying that the situation in Idlib is very volatile and can even be considered as a powder barrel that would have effects beyond Syria and Turkey. No day is passing without a UN official urging the regional and international community over what would come next in Idlib, a province home to nearly 3 million people.
The Syrian regime’s priority is to get control of this last rebel-held province and ensure its influence in the entire
Western Syria before a constitutional committee is set up and a political transition period may begin. The Russian position is not much different. The elimination of all terrorists groups and providing the security of nearby Russian bases are at the core of Moscow’s policy.
Foreign Minister Çavuşoğlu hinted in an interview on June 14 that they have accepted Russian proposals for overcoming an impasse on building the constitutional committee, but there had been no reply from the Russian side.