Mon 21 Sep 2020

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Russia enters areas of Turkish influence for “settling scores” 

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and Russian President Vladimir Putin (Edited by Enab Baladi)

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and Russian President Vladimir Putin (Edited by Enab Baladi)

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The letters of escalation between Turkey and Russia are back to the forefront once again in northern Syria, after nearly four months of relative calms following the agreement concluded last March between the two countries, except for the violations perpetrated by the Syrian regime forces and Iranian militias. 

The Syrian north has turned into a venue for settling political scores between Turkey and Russia, which agree on specific issues and differ in others, especially concerning the Syrian file, as they serve as the guarantor countries of the cessation of hostilities in Syria, amid the existence of some disputes between the two countries in conflict areas, most prominent in Libya. The border crisis of Azerbaijan and Armenia has also entered the line recently.

The most recent of these disputes between the two countries was the progress made by the forces of the UN-recognized Government of National Accord in Libya (GNA), supported by Ankara at the expense of the “Khalifa Haftar” forces, backed by Moscow, and the accompanying threat of “GNA” to attack the strategic city of Sirte.

In an interview with Enab Baladi, the leader of the Turkish-backed Syrian National Amy (SNA) Abdul Salam al-Razzaq said that the Turkish-backed GNA forces stationed on the outskirts of Sirte in Libya, awaiting the “Zero hour” to attack. Therefore, several active countries have increased their political activities, threatening statements, and warnings to prevent the attack. Russia, in fact, has delivered a subliminal message to Turkey that Russia will bomb quiet areas under the Turkish influence in the countryside of Aleppo.  

Al-Bab under the target of Russian aircraft 

The talk about exchanging influence between the Syrian and Libyan files is not new; each side is trying to pressure the other in order to make political and military gains, and the Syrian north is one of these cards that Russia is trying to pressure Turkey.

Weeks ago, Russian officials issued statements about the possibility of ending the calm in Idlib, and Russian aircraft have already begun launching airstrikes on the cities and towns of Jabal al-Zawiya in the southern countryside of Idlib, and al-Kabana in the countryside of Latakia.

The bombard came hours after a bomb attack hit a joint Russian-Turkish patrol on the international road connecting the provinces of Aleppo and Latakia on 14 July, which resulted in the injuries of three Russian soldiers. 

This coincided with the military build-up of the Syrian regime forces; the Syrian regime has brought in major reinforcements on all axes if Idlib 15 days ago, along with reconnaissance teams, deployed artilleries on the fronts, pending the Russian decision to resume fighting, as pointed out by a leader in the “National Front,” who spoke on condition of anonymity to Enab Baladi

However, the most prominent development was the Russian escalation in the areas of Turkish influence that are considered to be outside the scope of understandings and calculations; the city of al-Bab in the northern countryside of Aleppo was exposed on 16 July to two air raids by Russian warplanes suddenly: one in the surrounding of the “Iman” Mosque in the city center while the second raid took place in the roundabout of “al-Jahjah.”

Although Russia did not recognize that its warplanes targeted the city of al-Bab, with the accompanying silence of Turkey, which supports the military-dominating parties that administer the region on economic and social affairs,  the observatories in the city of al-Bab confirmed that the warplanes that targeted the city of al-Bab were Russians. 

According to the opposition’s Syrian Civil Defence (SCD) in Aleppo, “several airstrikes carried out by warplanes believed to belong to the Russian Air Force, targeted the center of al-Bab city, resulting in nine civilian injuries, including a child in critical condition.”

Hours later, an unmanned drone targeted a focal point of the Russian forces in the city of Derbasiya, north of al-Hasakeh, wounding six people, including a Russian person, according to Hawar News Agency, abbreviated ANHA, an online Kurdish news service based in al-Hasakeh.

ANHA published a video showing wounded soldiers in a Russian military uniform who were being moved to an ambulance then transported to a Russian military vehicle. 

For its part, “Ronahi TV,” an Autonomous Administration-affiliated Kurdish television channel focusing on Kurds around the world, quoted sources, without disclosing their names, as saying that during a meeting of leaders and elements of the Russian forces at the focal point to investigate the bombing incident that hit the point on the morning of 6 July this year, an unmanned drone targeted the meeting and then exploded above the point. The sources confirmed that six people were wounded, three elements of the Russian forces, and three others from the Syrian regime forces, amid expectations that the drone could be Turkish.

A major center of Watad Petroleum Companythe exclusive supplier of hydrocarbons in Idlib provincebased in Sarmda, the northern countryside of Idlib, was struck on 18 July, Safwan al-Ahmad, the director of the media office in the company, told Enab Baladi

Al-Ahmad said that an unidentified drone on a suicidal mission hit their center in Sarmda, with the early morning hours, adding that the drone came from areas controlled by Iranian militias. 

Russian letter

The city of al-Bab is considered one of the most important cities in the countryside of  Aleppo under the supervision of the Turkish government. Al-Bab was controlled by Turkey’s backed Syrian National Army (SNA) in a military operation against the so-called Islamic State (IS), called “Operation Euphrates Shield,” that ended in March 2017.

Since then, al-Bab saw an almost complete calm and peace, and Turkey contributed to the city’s development through economic activities and services, which left it outside the military operations, like other cities of the northern and eastern countryside of Aleppo.

As for Sarmada, it is considered an economic gateway to the Syrian north, after it emerged as an investment front that attracts traders in the region, due to its important strategic location near the border, as it is only six kilometers from Turkey (3.7 miles.)

It is noted that al-Bab and Sarmada were not bombed or attacked in the past years, except last February, when the Russian-Turkish dispute reached its peak in Idlib; Russian warplanes carried out five airstrikes on al-Bab, in response to Turkey’s escalation in Idlib at the time and non-acceptance of the terms to stop its military campaign in the region. 

Simultaneously, the camps around Sarmada were subjected to artillery shelling, which resulted in the injuries of some displaced people.

The shelling on al-Bab raised questions about the causes behind the escalation in the region, for it is considered outside the military and political understandings and calculations between Turkey and Russia in the region.

 The targeting of the city carried a Russian message to Turkey, Abdul Salam Abdul Razzaq said, because the city is within the direct Turkish influence.

Abdul Razzaq believes that “The bombing is related to the Libyan file, especially with the Sirte battle approaching, and with the progress made by the Turkish-backed GNA, adding that “The message was within the Euphrates Sheild regions, being outside Russian-Turkish understandings, unlike Idlib.”

Abdul Razzaq pointed out that there are many outstanding issues between Turkey and Russia, including the issues of Idlib and Libya. Azerbaijan, supported by Turkey and Armenia, backed by Russia, saying that “Syria is the most appropriate and easiest place for Russia to send its messages, as it controls most of Syria and its air defenses.”

Abdul Razzaq expected an escalation in the Syrian north on more than one front, but not launching an all-out battle like the past battles that took place last February.

Syrians in the region fear a new escalation in the region, especially in light of the spread of the coronavirus (Covid 19) pandemic, and the recording of 12 cases, in addition to the deteriorating economic conditions, which increase the suffering of more than four million Syrians in the region.

 

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