It’s hardly a surprise that these days one can come across claims that an overt war is about to be started in Syria on the pages of the German site known as Handelsblatt. The publication argues that once Syrian government forces killed dozens of Turkish soldiers in Idlib on the night of February 28, Ankara is bound to launch a retaliation strike against Syrian and Russian positions in this region immediately. It seems that the Turkish author that wrote those claims – Ozan Demirkan has been listening to arguments voiced by western warmongers about the “necessity” of getting Europe and the US directly involved in the hostilities in Idlib for far too long. What is, however, not being said is that such a development will be detrimental to Turkey’s own interests, as until recently it has been developing relations with Russia steadily, that is not just Ankara’s leading trade partner, but would repeatedly oppose the notion that Turkey must kiss its territorial integrity goodbye.
However, a certain number of Western and Turkish media sources would draw the attention of their readers to Ankara’s accusations leveled against the Syrian government and its forces since they’ve entered the de-escalation zone and are now appear to be fighting Turkish soldiers.
In turn, Syria doesn’t feel like it would be beneficial to its interests to keep its frustration over the repeated violations of the agreement on the separation of radical militants and so-called moderate forces in Idlib to itself, as Ankara took this responsibility upon itself and failed to act on its promise.
It’s even more curious that the absolute majority of Western and Turkish media sources choose not to publish the full text of the agreement signed by Turkey in Sochi in September of 2018. Instead, they rely on spreading unjustified criticism of Damascus and Moscow, thus promoting anti-Russian and anti-Syrian sentiments in a bid to prepare the general public for a military solution that would be presented as the only viable option on the table.
However, the sole conclusion that one can objectively draw from the events unraveling in Syria is that Ankara wasn’t inclined to fulfill the obligations it has taken upon itself in the Idlib de-escalation zone. And this must be admitted openly, since this fact makes the assault undertaken by Damascus absolutely legitimate, as it wants to put an end to the remnants of those terrorist groups operating in Idlib, with Turkish stubbornness leading to unjustified losses of its servicemen and the continuous misery of the civilian population.
Moscow has already expressed its condolences to Ankara over the deaths of 35 Turkish soldiers in Idlib. At the same time, the Russian Ministry of Defense announced that those Turkish servicemen that fell victims of the Syrian assault were nowhere near the Turkish observation posts that were built in the de-escalation zone with Moscow’s consent as they were supposed to allow Ankara “to monitor militant activity and prevent attempts to launch terrorist attacks.” None of the people manning any of the twelve Turkish observation posts deployed in Idlib in accordance with the Sochi agreement suffered any injuries, in fact they weren’t even at risk of receiving any. All of the instances that involved the loss of life of Turkish servicemen occurred in the areas of military operations conducted against terrorist forces. To make the matters worse, all of those who perished were in the ranks of the advancing militants of the Hayat Tahrir al-Sham terrorist group that is banned in the Russian Federation, that attempted to mount an all-out offensive in Idlib. This fact speaks volumes about the ties these militants enjoy with the Turkish military.
According to Syria’s ambassador to Beijing, Imad Moustapha, the fact that Turkish forces are now an integral part of terrorist formations in Syria inevitably leads to a situation when the lives of Turkish servicemen will be endangered, but it’s Tayyip Erdogan who is responsible for their deaths and must be held accountable by the Turkish population for his recklessness and fatal adventurism.
According to Turkey’s Minister of Defense, Hulusi Akar on the night of February 28, his forces opened fired on more than 200 targets, destroying 5 helicopters, 23 tanks, 23 artillery guns of the Syrian Arab Army (SAA), while killing over three hundred of its servicemen. At the same time, it cannot be completely ruled out that those figures were massively exaggerated. The Syrian Foreign Ministry has already stated that Ankara inflates the number of Syrian losses in an attempt to raise the morale of the terrorist formations in Idlib that are being defeated by Damascus. But regardless of the exact numbers, it must be recognized that the situation in the Syrian province of Idlib has escalated to the point where the Syrian Arab Army and the Turkish armed forces may end up facing each other in an open military conflict.
Meanwhile, dissatisfaction with Erdogan’s policies is growing in Turkey. Representatives of the left-wing nationalist Patriotic Party (also known as VATAN) have already announced their conviction that Turkey’s war on Syria will become a trap for both the country and its president. Since the militants controlled by Ankara cannot independently confront the Syrian armed forces, Ankara finds itself in a situation when it has to withdraw completely or carry on infiltrating their ranks with its special forces operatives, that are being used as cannon fodder. In such a situation, Turkish casualties can only go up.
Ankara’s invasion of Syria, which caused massive losses among the Turkish military, dozens of destroyed armored vehicles, together with the downing of its latest attack UAV Anka-S, which cost is estimated in millions of dollars, has already provoked a backlash within the Turkish armed forces, with certain representatives of the military brass expressing their frustration openly. In fact, Erdogan is accused of inability to ensure the security of Turkish troops in Syria. Those voices are joined by the opposition forces and retired military officials. Experts argue that the continuation of Ankara’s intervention in Syria will lead to mounting body count, changing the domestic political climate in Turkey. Against the backdrop, yet another military coup attempt against Erdogan cannot be completely ruled out, especially in a situation where many of his opponents still remain in the country.
Nevertheless, Erdogan kept pushing forward urging the United States and NATO to convey an emergency meeting of the North Atlantic Alliance to discuss the situation in Idlib.
However, while trying to draw NATO forces into the conflict, Ankara lost track of the fact that Idlib is not a Turkish region and Ankara’s soldiers there constitute an occupation force, which excludes the possibility of invoking Article 5 of the NATO charter. Therefore, the emergency meeting of NATO ended up with limited verbal support provided to Ankara and Washington showing its reluctance to send its troops to support Erdogan in Idlib. To make the matters worse, yet another member of the North Atlantic Alliance – Athens vetoed NATO’s statement in support of Ankara due to its concern that Turkey may refuse to control the flow of refugees from Syria to Europe.
Ankara used to blackmail Europe with an illegal migrant card, which would provoke harsh criticism not just in Greece, but in a great many of other European countries. Today, Europe is prepared to vocally oppose the idea of Ankara sending migrant flows to the EU, not just because of the fear that there will be a lot of radical elements among those arriving to European countries, but also because of the coronavirus epidemic, which, if left unchecked, can transform into an uncontrolled pandemic. In this regard, it’s curious that the British media that would never spare a chance to demonize Syria has announced that Erdogan tried to sucker punch Syria, but then started to act like a crybaby upon receiving a retaliatory strike, demanding NATO’s assistance. Some media personalities would go as far as to propose Turkey to be quickly expelled from NATO, before the situation gets worse, with others arguing that Putin is doing EU’s dirty work, balancing between Turkey and the Persian Gulf countries, in a bid to deal with the consequences of the extremely poor decision that European authorities made to allow the armed conflict in Syria to even take place.
Today, it’s perfectly clear that neither NATO, nor Europe, not even the United States needs Erdogan as he is no longer acceptable for any of these players as a political figure. That is why Washington is going to carry on its attempts to lure Ankara into going to war with Russia, since the US can ensure that Turkey will suffer heavy enough casualties for it to pull out a successful regime change operation in Ankara.
Valery Kulikov, political analyst, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook”.