Russian-Turkish discord manifested by escalation in Idlib

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin in a previous meeting - 2019 (Anadolu Agency)

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin in a previous meeting - 2019 (Anadolu Agency)


Enab Baladi

The Russian and Turkish officers did not reach a unified formula for implementing northwestern Syria agreements during a meeting in the Turkish capital, Ankara, on 16 September, which was reflected on the ground in Idlib province.

In an interview with the Turkish channel “CNN,” Turkey’s Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu hinted that Idlib’s political process could end if his country did not reach an agreement with Russia.

Cavusoglu said, “regarding Syria, we need to maintain a ceasefire in Idlib area first,” indicating that the meetings were not “very productive” in a comment on the meeting between Russian and Turkish military experts in Ankara.

The Turkish foreign minister added, “the ceasefire in Syria should continue, and there must be more focus on political negotiations,” noting that there should be relative calm in Idlib province, because if the fighting continues, the political process may be over.

What do the Russians want?

Russia’s state-controlled news agency, Sputnik, reported on 16 September from a source it did not name, that during a meeting at Turkey’s Foreign Ministry in Ankara, the Russian delegation submitted a proposal to reduce the number of Turkish observation points in Idlib; however, “no agreement was reached on this matter.”

The source mentioned that “it was decided to reduce the number of Turkish troops in Idlib and to withdraw heavy weapons from the area,” after the Turkish side refused to withdraw Turkish surveillance posts and insisted on keeping them instead.

While the Asharq Al-Awsat newspaper quoted a Russian source saying that Moscow was persuading Ankara to reduce its military presence in Idlib and withdraw heavy weapons during talks in Ankara.

The Russian source informed the newspaper that the Russian technical delegation presented its proposal, “but the two sides failed to reach an understanding in this regard.”

The Russian source added, “the second day of the talks saw a detailed discussion of the mechanisms for withdrawing part of the Turkish forces deployed in the region, withdrawing heavy weapons, and keeping Turkish observation points.”

The source pointed out that “Ankara insisted on maintaining all observation posts; nevertheless, it showed flexibility in the talks about withdrawing part of its troops with heavy weapons.”

He continued saying, “the discussions focused on the mechanisms of withdrawing to ensure that no provocations would occur during the withdrawal operations.”

Russia maneuvering for gains

Political analyst Samer Khlioui said to Enab Baladi that Russia is currently exploiting the situation in northern Syria to bargain Turkey in other files, mainly the Libyan file.

He added that it is well known that Russia, as a country, does not respect its commitments and agreements.

Khlioui said Russia is an “exploitative country” that wants Turkey to make concessions in Libya, indicating that Libya’s agreement would reduce the intense situation in northern Syria.

The Turkish Foreign Minister also referred in his interview with the CNN Turkish channel to his dissatisfaction with the Russians’ negotiations concerning Syria. He said that officials from the two countries came close to agreeing on a ceasefire and a political process in Libya.

The two parties (Turkish and Russian) support Libya’s two main conflicting sides, the internationally recognized Government of National Accord (GNA)/”al-Wefaq” supported by Ankara and the retired Major General Khalifa Haftar’s forces backed by Russia.

According to Khlioui, Turkey realizes that Russia may launch a military campaign within the United States President Donald Trump’s preoccupation with the US presidential elections.

Russia declares continuously that it will work with the Syrian regime to regain all Syrian lands to the regime’s control; nonetheless, its last military campaign did not get support from the United States, which stood beside Turkey, according to Khlioui.

Moreover, it is not in Turkey’s interest to make any concessions in Syria, to allow Russian gains in Syria or Libya, for both countries are important to Turkey.

In case Turkey cedes power to Russia in northern Syria, this would lead to difficulties and problems concerning Turkish national security, and Turkey is aware of this, according to Khlioui.

Turkey rejected all Russian demands and strengthened its military presence in the “liberated Syrian north” as a guarantee to prevent any military operation in the region.

Moreover, Turkey got the support of the European Union (EU) and the United States (US) to prevent any military action by Russia in northern Syria, leading to the influx of Syrian refugees to Europe.

Turkish statements met by Russian bombardment of Idlib

Russian authorities did not comment on Ankara’s meeting, unlike the Turkish ones, while the Syrian regime and Russia targeted the opposition held-areas by bombing.

The head of the Ariha city section in southern Idlib of the “Syrian Civil Defense” told Enab Baladi that the past days of 17, 18,19 September witnessed artillery and missile strikes by the regime on the villages of southern Idlib countryside, mainly the villages and towns of al-Fatirah, Balyoun, and Kanasfara in Jabal al-Zawiya.

The military aircraft also launched airstrikes on the surroundings of Sarja village in Jabal al-Arbaeen, southern Idlib, which injured five people.

During the Russian and Turkish officers’ meeting, the regime’s forces escalated their bombardment of Shnan and Bayneen villages in Jabal al-Zawiya.

On 5 of last March, Idlib province became subject to the “Moscow” ceasefire agreement signed between Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin, which provided for the creation of a “security corridor” on the international highway “M4.”

The agreement included joint Russian-Turkish patrols between Trinbeh village, west of Saraqib city (east of Idlib), and Ain al-Hawr village in western rural Idlib. It also stated that the southern areas of the international highway (M4) connecting between Lattakia and Aleppo of the “security corridor” would be under Russia’s supervision, while its north under Turkey’s supervision.

However, the “Syrian Response Coordination Group (SRCG)” documented 2,387 ceasefire violations by the Syrian regime and Russia, since the signing of the agreement until 18 August, as 18 civilians were killed, including five children, until the beginning of last July.

These violations included targeting the opposition areas by artillery and missile bombs, drones, and Russian warplanes in several areas of Idlib, Hama, and Aleppo.

On 7 September, the Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said following his talks with the head of the Syrian regime, Bashar al-Assad, “We believe that relative calm has been established in Syria, and we must work to consolidate this trend.”

However, on the same day of Lavrov’s statement, the Syrian regime’s artillery was bombing civilians’ houses in Ariha city, south of Idlib, killing a civilian and wounding six others, including a child and a woman, while the city’s “Syrian Civil Defense” center was targeted.

On the same day, the SRCG documented the regime’s targeting of 14 points in Ariha city by artillery shells.


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