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Turkey in panic as Assad seeks to reclaim occupied territory

By M K Bhadrakumar | Indian Punchline | August 1, 2018

The meeting of the senior diplomats from Russia, Iran and Turkey in Sochi on Tuesday was prima facie meant to hasten the Astana process on a Syrian settlement. But in reality, it took place in the backdrop of reports that Syrian forces, which have liberated the southwestern provinces of Quneitra (facing Golan Heights) and Daraa (on the Jordanian border) will now proceed to assault the northwestern province of Idlib on the Turkish border.

Ankara has warned that any such move by Damascus will prompt Turkey to pull out of the Astana process altogether in protest. Turkey’s fear is that unlike in the southern provinces, the terrorist groups that control Idlib may fight it out, which would lead to large-scale violence and an exodus of refugees and militants across the border into Turkey. Idlib is estimated to have a population close to 2.5 million. Importantly, though, Turkey seeks to maintain its presence in Idlib, thanks to its enduring links with many of the extremist groups ensconced there. Turkey is equally adamant that the Kurds should not spread their influence into Idlib close to eastern Mediterranean coast.

Turkish President Recep Erdogan personally took up the matter with Russian President Vladimir Putin twice during the past fortnight, demanding that Moscow should restrain Damascus from launching any operations in Idlib. After the meeting in Sochi today, Russian presidential envoy on Syria Alexander Lavrentyev was quoted as saying, “I’d rather refrain from speaking about the city’s (Idlib’s) storming or a pending operation. There are too many rumors and they are ungrounded. Any large-scale operation in Idlib is out of the question.”

He seemed to hint that Russia and Turkey are trying to find a way to influence the terrorist groups to surrender (which was how Daraa and Quneitra were liberated without fighting.) To quote Lavrentyev, “We still hope that the moderate opposition and our Turkish partners, who took responsibility for stabilising this region, will manage it.” But he added, “The threat coming from this zone is still significant.” (In the past 10 days, Russia had shot down as many as four drones launched by the militants from Idlib targeting the Russian military near the Hmeymim airbase.)

On the other hand, Damascus has insisted that it intended to liberate Idlib. All indications are that preparations have begun for a big military operation. The militant groups in Idlib are estimated to be over 50,000 strong and are drawn from Turkish, Uzbek, Chechen, Turkistani and Arab fighters from the Persian Gulf.

Overshadowing the Idlib issue, there is another development that worries Turkey – the direct talks between the Syrian Kurds (previously aligned with the US) and Damascus for reaching a modus vivendi regarding northern Syria up to the Euphrates in the east. The Kurds hope to reconcile with the Assad government in pursuit of their common interest to force Turkey to vacate the large chunks of Syrian territories occupied by it in military operations in the recent years.

Contradictions are galore. For one thing, Russia encourages the newfound proximity between Syrian Kurds and Assad regime. Russia is also keen to vanquish the jihadi fighters who migrated to Syria from North Caucasus and Central Asia. Again, Moscow is one with Damascus on preserving Syria’s unity and territorial integrity at any cost.

On the other hand, it is of supreme importance for Moscow that Turkey is somehow assuaged so that the Astana process as such doesn’t get derailed. At the same time, Russia also places store on its working relationship with Turkey at the bilateral level that is steadily deepening and assuming a strategic character, especially with the downswing in Turkish-American relations lately. The business ties between Russia and Turkey are also flourishing with Russia winning multi-billion dollar contracts in energy projects.

Realpolitik aside, however, morally or legally Turkey has no business to stop the Assad regime from regaining control of the entire Syrian territory. Turkey has blood on its hands by fostering al-Qaeda groups and Islamic State. Equally, Turkish occupation of Syrian territory is untenable on any ground. In reality, Turkey overreached, hoping that it could exploit the US-Russia tensions to bargain with both superpowers and maximize its returns in a Syrian settlement. But President Trump has instead begun tightening the screws on Erdogan lately. Equally, Ankara didn’t expect the stunning victory of the Syrian-Russian operations in southwestern Syria.

There will be growing pressure on Turkey to pull out from Syrian territory in the coming months. Evidently, an American withdrawal from Syria in a near future is on the cards. The Syrian Kurds’ move to reconcile with Damascus is the sure indicator that their American mentors are exiting the war. In short, the US’ capacity to create new facts on the ground in favor of Turkey is virtually zero. This puts Turkey under immense pressure to negotiate a deal with Russia on the best terms available.

To be sure, Assad’s tenacity to reclaim all lost territories is not to be doubted. Make no mistake, he will liberate Idlib, no matter what it takes, and he will thereafter head east towards Jarablus, Azaz, al-Bab and Afrin — territories that are under Turkish control — as well as areas near the Euphrates front line that have been under the control of the Kurdish groups backed by the US. It seems some skirmishes have already begun in the region adjacent to Idlib between Syrian government forces and terrorist groups. Read a report by FARS news agency, here.

August 2, 2018 - Posted by | Illegal Occupation, War Crimes | , , ,

1 Comment »

  1. Next stop….The Golan Heights, which is Syrian territory. Mr Murdoch will not be pleased but, let’s not get ahead of ourselves. Turkey is about to find out that, “If you lay down with dogs, you wake up with fleas”…..or, you reap what you sow.

    I hope the Syrians are successful in taking back what is rightfully theirs.

    Comment by Brian Harry, Australia | August 2, 2018 | Reply


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