The attack on a training camp for the Failak al Sham militia just a few kilometers from the Turkish border was a heavy blow against the insurgents – and a declaration of war at the same time. Moscow is clearly increasing pressure on Ankara in Syria, while at the same time warning the Turkish government of its attempts to interfere in the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict.
Nonetheless, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is threatening another invasion of Northern Syria.
Russia and Turkey have been working together in a country at war for years, although Moscow Bashar al Assad and Ankara have supported the opposition that is fighting against the Syrian head of state. So far, the cooperation has benefited both sides: Russia has been able to disconnect NATO country Turkey from the West and Turkey to pursue its own interests in Syria.
An Assad offensive in Idlib, the last rebel bastion after nearly a decade of war, weighed on the alliance at the end of last year.
A short-lived truce
In the spring, Kremlin chief Vladimir Putin and Erdogan reached an agreement on a ceasefire between their allies in Syria, which should stabilize the situation in Idlib. Recently, however, Russian and Syrian fighter jets have again launched more attacks in the area; Turkish soldiers have now had to withdraw from some observation posts in Idlib.
According to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, it was only Wednesday that four people died in missile attacks by the Syrian army on the town of Ariha on the strategically important M4 highway.
Assad wants to set an example
Assad leaves no doubt that he wants to bring Idlib back under his control – a few days ago he appointed a governor for the province for the first time in a long time. That fits his claim to rule all of Syria.
Last but not least, this includes setting an example by all means and without any quid pro quo: anyone who dares to resist will feel the regime’s military might. It is marketed as the “fight against terrorism”.
Representatives of Germany, the US and France at the UN accuse the ruler in Damascus of delaying negotiations for a new Syrian constitution under the umbrella of the United Nations to be confirmed for another seven-year term in the planned presidential election in Syria next year. allow.
Allies and adversaries: Vladimir Putin and Recep Tayyip Erdogan Photo: Pavel Golovkin / Reuters
The new attacks by the Russian air force and the Syrian army in Idlib could put Turkey in trouble. The Failak al Sham militia is an important partner of Ankara in the province and has participated in military interventions in Northern Syria along with the Turkish army in recent years.
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Turkey had promised Moscow several times to tame radical groups in Idlib – but the extremist militia HTS, which is close to Al-Qaeda and controls large parts of the province, has so far been left untouched. Russia has long been waiting for an opportunity to strike, says Kerim Has, an expert on Russian-Turkish relations.
The fact that Ankara cannot get a hold of the Islamists provided a welcome excuse for Moscow to demonstrate its power in Idlib.
Erdogan demands a say in the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict
In view of this, Putin wants to show Erdogan in particular his limits with regard to the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. Turkey has intervened in the Karabakh conflict on the Azerbaijani side, calling into question Russia’s position as a power of order in the Caucasus.
Because Moscow is Armenia’s protective force. Just a few days ago, Erdogan asked for a say in Karabakh, which Moscow categorically rejects. Now Russia is not using its fighters in Idlib against HTS fighters, but against the Islamist militia Failak al Sham, loyal to Turkey.
The attack should be understood as a direct message from Moscow to Ankara, Middle East expert Charles Lister of the Middle East Institute in Washington wrote on Twitter.
Ruler Bashar al Assad is determined to recapture Idlib Photo: Syrian Presidency / AFP
In an initial response to the air strike, Erdogan said he saw significant problems in cooperation with Russia in Syria. The bombing shows that Moscow is not interested in lasting peace in the region, he said.
The Turkish president also confirmed that the military would re-invade Northern Syria if it deems it necessary due to the presence of Kurdish militiamen at the border. Since 2016, Turkey has already sent its soldiers to the neighboring country in four places.
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The US is also expanding its military activities in Idlib. In a drone strike last week, US forces claimed to have killed seven leading members of the Al Qaeda terror network. For the people of Idlib this means: they cannot hope for peace and quiet.
Since the beginning of 2019, nearly 1.5 million women, children and men have been displaced by the fighting. The refugee camps are completely overcrowded, which means that citizens often have to spend the night outdoors – and that when the temperature drops. And many people are hungry.
Then there is Corona. More and more people are becoming infected. But the testing capabilities are just as poor as the equipment in intensive care beds or ventilators. Compliance with hygiene regulations is out of the question in extremely tight living conditions. The pandemic has an easy game in times of war.