Turkey, Russia dissent on Syria’s impending Idlib operation
It is beyond dispute that one of the game changing impacts in the Syrian theater was a joint product by Turkey and Russia, who have created the Astana Process later with the participation of Iran in early 2017. The three-way mechanism has brought about the establishment of four de-escalation zones inside Syria in a bid to reduce violence and therefore, create the necessary conditions for a political settlement.
In parallel to the Astana Process, Russia formulated the Sochi Process with Turkey and Iran in the second half of 2017. Its objective to replace the “war paradigm” with the “peace paradigm” through a set of decisions for the writing of the new Syrian constitution by a committee includes figures from the current regime and opposition groups.
This Russia-led policy was to the advantage of the Syrian regime, which could consolidate its power in nearly all of western Syria after eliminating terror groups and opposition groups in the provinces of Daraa, Eastern Ghouta and Homs. Among these four de-escalation zones, only Idlib is under the control of jihadist groups and some moderate opposition forces.
Reports based on field intelligence suggest an upcoming large-scale Syrian military operation into the Idlib province with the support of the Russian army.
All these developments and future prospects about Syria are being discussed at an annual conference that convenes Turkish ambassadors and permanent representatives across the world in the Turkish capital. It was therefore very timely and smart to invite Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov to the conference as a guest speaker to brief Turkish envoys about Russian foreign policy and perspectives on regional and global issues.
Lavrov and Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu also held bilateral talks and a joint press conference after the former’s address to the ambassadors.
The Idlib issue was of course one of the top issues because it is of very much concern to Turkey both from security and social perspectives. Turkey still has a sizeable military deployment in Idlib and any kind of military offensive would put the lives of Turkish troops in danger. Furthermore, more than two million civilians would rush to save their lives into the Turkish border, creating a new exodus from Syria.
However, these Turkish concerns frequently brought to the attention of both Russian President Vladimir Putin and Lavrov have so far been unheard. It is because Russian interests in Syria do foresee a quick control of Syrian lands by Damascus so Syrian President Bashar al-Assad can continue his rule without major internal problems. It encourages talks between Assad and the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), largely made by the People’s Protection Units (YPJ), a group Ankara considers as a terrorist organization. Putin’s talks with United States President Donald Trump on Syria are believed to generate a deal between two powers for the future of Syria.
As seen, this explained Russian policy does not have any intention to care about Turkey’s security and other sorts of interests. Lavrov, at the press conference, made it clear Russia woud support the Syrian army’s impending operation into Idlib without any reference to Turkey’s legitimate concerns.
Following Idlib, the next targets of the Syrian army could well be Afrin and the al-Bab provinces, which are under the control of the Turkish army. Plus, Russia’s opposition to any future Turkish military operation in different parts of Syria is also well-known.
Turkey is seemingly very much pre-occupied with an ongoing row with the U.S. but tension at its foot is speedily escalating and can cause serious consequences for its security. It should also be noted that operation against jihadist terror organizations will not receive reaction from the U.S. or other Western partners.
That is, Turkey will likely be left alone in dealing with the potential devastating consequences of an upcoming military operation by the Syrian army into Idlib.