Turkey has no desire to face Russia in Syria
Last week witnessed a heightened quarrel between Turkey and Russia over developments in Idlib province of Syria. The war of words has later turned into a concrete conflict on the field after the Russian air forces conducted an attack against moderate groups backed by the Turkish artillery.
The Russian Defense Ministry issued a very strong statement on Feb. 20 and urged Turkey to stop supporting terrorists in the Idlib province. Unconfirmed reports suggest it was the Russian attack that left two Turkish soldiers dead on Thursday.
With around a week left to the Turkish deadline for the withdrawal of the Syrian troops to the outside of the de-militarized area as suggested by the Sochi Agreement, neither Turkey nor the Russia-Syria duo signal a step back from their current positions.
Turkey has massively reinforced its military presence in Idlib and established temporary deployment in order to deter the Syrian army’s advance towards the north. Its military activities are being supported by the moderate groups in the field that launched an offensive against the regime forces to push them back away from the M4 highway.
The Russian-Syrian response was quite effective. Russian air forces strongly hit the moderate groups which paved the way for the Syrian ground forces to repel their attack. It has been regarded as a strong message from the Russian-Syrian alliance that they will not take a step back from the positions they captured.
Despite this risky confrontation in the field, there are still hopes for a solution to the impasse. Senior Turkish officials express their hopes that Russians will press on the Syrian regime to cease its operations against civilians. They cite four main reasons:
- The security of the Turkish forces both in the observation posts and in other areas in the province.
- The need for the protection of innocent civilians. To avoid new refugee influx and humanitarian tragedy.
- To keep the political transition process intact.
- To prevent the Turkish-Russian relationship and cooperation in various fields from ruining.
The last item is seen as particularly important, as a potential conflict between the two powers would have impacts beyond this region. In an interview with the CNNTürk on Feb. 20, Turkey’s Defense Minister Hulusi Akar was quite outspoken on the need to keep the Turkish-Russian dialogue unbroken.
“Confronting with Russia is neither our intention nor an objective. It’s out of the question. We will continue to exert efforts to avoid such a thing. What is essential for us is the regime’s abiding by the cease-fire, cessation of its attack and not committing massacres,” Akar said.
As a matter of fact, some Turkish officials clearly see that there will be no withdrawal of the Syrian regime. The key point is to convince the Russians for a lasting cease-fire in the field.
A recent engagement by French and German leaders, President Emmanuel Macron and Chancellor Angela Merkel for a four-way meeting with the participation of Turkish and Russian presidents is seen as a very positive development to this end.
Turkey and Russia see that there is no other option other than agreeing on a new status quo in Idlib.