Chilling winds blow between Turkey, Russia and Iran in Syria
The Russian Defense Ministry did not confirm claims posted on some websites about destroyed airplanes in the Russia-operated Hmeimim air base in Syria on New Year’s Eve but on Jan. 5, Russian officials did say two soldiers had been killed in a rocket attack.
On Jan. 8, Moscow said 10 armed drones had attacked the same base on Jan. 7, while another three were directed against the Russian naval station at Tartus on the Mediterranean Sea. The prime suspect was the Al-Qaeda affiliated jihadist group Ahrar al-Sham, according to a number of news sites.
On Jan. 9, the Turkish Foreign Ministry called Russian Ambassador Aleksey Yerhov and Iranian Ambassador Bahman Hosseinpour in a bid to stop the Syrian regime attacking “moderate opposition” forces around the Syrian town of Idlib. According to a de-escalation of hostilities agreement between the three countries concerning the Northwestern town, which lies close to the Turkish border, “moderate opposition” means rebel groups other than Al-Qaeda and Islamic State of Iraq and Levant (ISIL) affiliated ones, groups that fall under the umbrella of Turkey-backed Free Syria Army (FSA).
According to that agreement, Turkey is expected to stop FSA attacks on Syrian regime forces loyal to Bashar al-Assad while Russia and Iran are expected to prevent the Syrian Army and pro-Iran militia from attacking the FSA. The idea is to clear the region of the above-mentioned “terrorist elements.”
One major factor behind escalating tension between the three partners, which were able to successfully decrease (in relative terms) tensions through the Astana talks, was the Syrian army’s operation to take back the military airport of Abu Duhour, which is southeast of Idlib. FSA sources claim that the FSA controls the airport, “not the bad ones.”
Ankara fears that if the Syrian army take back the airport, the FSA will be unable to stop the People’s Protection Units (YPG) from advancing towards the Turkish border. The YPG is the Syrian armed wing of the Democratic Union Party (PYD), which is an extension of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), a group that has been fighting the Turkish state for more than three decades. The U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM) has been cooperating with the YPG as part of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) in the fight against ISIL, despite objections from NATO partner Turkey, which has been offering its cooperation.
It is complicated, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu told semi-official Anadolu Agency early on Jan. 10. He also said Turkey had kept its promises in the ceasefire deal for Idlib but that Damascus should not hide behind Russia and Iran to launch attacks. In the meantime, the Turkish Foreign Ministry called the Iranian ambassador again on the same subject.
At around the same time Reuters quoted the Russian Defense Ministry newspaper the Krasnaya Zvezda as saying Minister Sergey Shoygu had sent letters to Turkish Chief of General Staff Hulusi Akar and head of Turkey’s National Intelligence Agency (MİT) Hakan Fidan, claiming that the drones used in the attacks against the Hmeimim base originated from zones supposedly under Turkish control.
Russian and Iranian Foreign Ministers Sergey Lavrov and Javad Zarif have reportedly spoken about the developments of these developments, which have caused chilling winds to blow ahead of a key meeting between government and opposition factions in the Syrian civil war in the Russian Black Sea coastal town of Sochi on Jan. 29-30. Diplomatic sources say despite the lack of any scheduled meeting as of yesterday, the presidents of the three countries Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, Vladimir Putin and Hassan Rouhani, may well meet before the Sochi summit in order to put things back on track before the Geneva peace talks begin.