Putin dissatisfies Erdoğan on Idlib

Putin dissatisfies Erdoğan on Idlib

The front pages of almost all national newspapers were full of pictures of Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and Russian President Vladimir Putin posing in front of a Russian-made SU-57 aircraft during the Turkish president’s visit to Russia on Aug. 27.

“Are we going to buy this one?” Erdoğan asked Putin in front of the TV cameras. On a question from journalists upon his return from Russia on whether Turkey would buy SU-57s from Russia, he said: “We did not come here for nothing.”

He also informed that he instructed the chief of the Turkish defense industry agency to discuss ways to deepen ongoing cooperation with his Russian counterpart, including either a direct supply of these aircraft or co-producing them.

On Aug. 30, he said Turkey will have to take care of its military equipment needs in case the United States continues to bar Turkey from participating in the F-35 aircraft program.

The media attention will surely be on this dimension of the Erdoğan-Putin dialogue although the main course in front of these two men was growing concerns over the Idlib province of Syria.

At the joint press conference following their meeting, Erdoğan reiterated Ankara’s concerns over the recently intensified military attacks by the Russia-backed Syrian army, but Putin’s statements were far from soothing these very concerns of the Turkish government. He insisted the need for clearing the jihadist terrorists from the enclave with suggestions to take some additional steps with Turkey to this end.

Even after the meeting, the military campaign by both the Russian and Syrian armies has intensified, and according to wire agencies, the Iran-linked militias have also joined the duo. Many villages in the northern part of Khan Sheyhoun have been captured by the regime forces after heavy clashes in the enclave, triggering displacement of thousands of Syrians towards the Turkish border.

Erdoğan did not hide his dissatisfaction about the current state of things in Idlib, and he bluntly put it while talking to the journalists. The only positive thing Erdoğan cited was an assurance given by Russia for the protection of the Turkish military posts.

On Aug 30, Russia stated that the Syrian army will announce a unilateral truce starting from Aug. 31. However, the same regime had announced a ceasefire in early August - something it has not implemented efficiently. So, there are doubts that the Syrian army will stop until it fully controls the entire region through a gradually intensified military campaign.

The situation in Idlib is not sustainable and puts the security of the Turkish troops at risk. One of the objectives of the Syrian-Russian military operations is to oblige Turkey to abandon its observation posts so that they could better concentrate on the fight against terror.

Although a year has passed since Turkey and Russia agreed to set up a demilitarized zone in this part of Syria, there has been no meaningful achievement so far. The need to separate terrorists from civilians and moderate opposition groups is still there, and talks between Turkish and Russian experts failed to conclude this very issue.

Turkey continues to urge the international community over Idlib as Erdoğan said he will discuss all these issues with U.S. President Donald Trump at the UN General Assembly in September. The Turkish government would like to observe more pressure from the international community on Russia and Syria for the cessation of the military operations against the civilians.

Meanwhile, what is interesting is to see Erdoğan’s continued intention to negotiate with Putin on the supply of SU-57s or any other military equipment from Russia although he cannot get much in return politically in the Syrian theater. It’s perhaps a new way of conducting diplomacy.

Serkan Demirtaş,