The ceasefire in Syria allows Turkey to save face, but make not mistake, Russia has won decisively. From Scott Ritter at theamericanconservative.com:
Erdogan talked tough, but in the end had to surrender gains to Moscow and Damascus.
President of Turkey Recep Tayyip Erdogan (L) and President of Russia Vladimir Putin (R) shake hands at the end of a joint news conference following an inter-delegation meeting at Kremlin Palace in Moscow, Russia on March 5, 2020. (Photo by Sefa Karacan/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)
When the history of the Syrian conflict is written, the fighting that took place between the Syrian Army and its allies on the one side, and the Turkish military and Turkish-backed Syrian rebels on the other, from early February through early March 2020 in and around the Syrian town of Saraqib, will go down as one of the decisive encounters of that war.
Representing more than a clash of arms between the Syrian and Turkish militaries, the Battle for Saraqib was a test of political will between Turkish President Recep Erdogan and his Russian counterpart, Vladimir Putin. History will show Turkey lost on both accounts.
The Battle for Saraqib had its roots in fighting that began back in December 2019, in the form of an offensive carried out by the Syrian Army, supported by the Russian Air Force, against pro-Turkish opposition forces in and around Idlib province. The Syrian-Russian offensive represented the collapse of the so-called Sochi Agreement of September 17, 2018, which established what were known as “de-escalation zones” separating the Syrian Army from anti-government rebel forces in Idlib. As part of the Sochi Agreement, Turkey set up a dozen “observation posts”—in reality, fortified compounds housing several hundred troops and their equipment—throughout the Idlib de-escalation zone.
In exchange for legitimizing the existence of fortified Turkish observation posts, the Sochi Agreement mandated specific actions on Turkey’s part, including overseeing the establishment of a “demilitarized zone” within the de-escalation zone where tanks, artillery and multiple rocket launchers were to be excluded, and from which all “radical terrorist groups” would be removed by October 15, 2018. Moreover, Turkey was responsible for restoring transit traffic on two strategic highways linking the city of Aleppo with Latakia (the M4 highway) and Damascus (the M5 highway.)
Erdogan is playing such a weak hand he may be forced from the game. From Tom Luongo at tomluongo.me:
“Whom the gods would destroy they first make mad”
— Henry Wadsworth Longfellow “Prometheus”
It looks like Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is headed for the political gallows a lot quicker than I ever thought.
His offensive in Idlib has bogged down. And a day before he’s scheduled to meet with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Moscow Erdogan Turkish parliament degrades quickly as opposition speaks out against his Syria campaign.
It’s clear Erdogan’s support at home is deteriorating quickly. And his push into Syria is a grave miscalculation as I’ve noted in other posts (here and here).
I spoke with Sputnik Radio’s newest show, Political Misfits, on this making the point that Erdogan is still convinced he can fill the vacuum left by a retreating U.S. to become the regional overlord in a new Middle East.
The rest of Europe is fed up with Turkish president Erdogan’s delusions of grandeur and rebuilding the Ottoman empire. From Con Coughlin at gatestoneinstitute.org:
If the current crisis facing Turkey is entirely of Mr Erdogan’s own making, that has not prevented the Turkish president from trying to deflect attention away from his own mishandling of the conflict by seeking to provoke a new migrant crisis in Europe.
When Turkey took the controversial decision last year to purchase Russia’s state-of-the-art S-400 anti-aircraft missile system, Mr Erdogan calculated that it would herald new era of friendly cooperation with Ankara’s long-standing rival in Moscow even if, by pressing ahead with the deal, the Turks risked jeopardising their relationship with NATO, which bitterly opposed the deal.
Russians now find themselves in a direct confrontation with Turkish forces in Idlib province, where the Turks are trying to protect a number of Islamist militias committed to overthrowing the Assad regime… [A]s the recent escalation in fighting has demonstrated, the Russians’ main priority is to support the Assad regime.
Mr Erdogan is also about to discover that there has been a hardening of attitudes among European leaders about dealing with unwanted migrants since the Turkish leader last used his blackmail tactics five years ago…. These days, senior politicians in Mrs Merkel’s centre-right Christian Democrats take a more hard-nosed approach to the migrant issue, with one senior party member warning the migrants this week, “There is no point coming to Germany. We cannot take you in.”
If Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan believes he can bully European leaders by provoking a fresh migrant crisis in southern Europe, then he would be well-advised to think again. (Photo by Adem Altan/AFP via Getty Images)
If Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan believes he can bully European leaders by provoking a fresh migrant crisis in southern Europe, then he would be well-advised to think again.
Erdogan is doing his best to get NATO to come to his aid in Syria (he’s playing the refugee card). Never underestimate the intelligence of generals and politicians; he may succeed. From Daniel Lazare at antiwar.com:
In order to understand why the war in Syria’s northwest Idlib province is likely to spread, it may be helpful to think back to the dark days of early World War II.
Britain was alone and on the ropes. Plenty of countries wished it well. But with France, Denmark, the Low Countries, Norway, and Poland all under the Nazi boot, no one was willing to step forward with anything along the lines of practical aid. The future looked grim, which is why murmurs in favor of a negotiated settlement were growing harder and harder to ignore.
But then the United States and Soviet Union entered the war, and suddenly Britain had the world’s two greatest industrial powers on its side. Grumbling ceased. Hitler was also eager for allies, yet the only ones he could come up with were Italy, Hungary, Romania, and Finland, third-rate powers all. All would fall by the wayside as the slaughter intensified while Britain, the US, and the USSR would go from strength to strength.
It’s not only how many guns and soldiers you have, in other words, but how many allies – and who those allies are.
Now flash forward to Syria eighty years later. Damascus is diplomatically isolated thanks to the unremitting hostility of the US. But, militarily, it’s the opposite. Not only does it enjoy the support of Hezbollah and Iraq-based militias loyal to Iran, but it’s also found an all-important ally in post-Soviet Russia. Before Vladimir Putin intervened in September 2015, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad was visibly weakening under a jihadist onslaught financed by the United States, Saudi Arabia, and the other Arab gulf oil monarchies. Afterwards, the situation stabilized and then – to Turkey’s fury since it also backed jihad – slowly turned in Assad’s favor.
Turkey’s president Recep Tayyiv Erdogan has bit off more than he can chew in Syria. From Daniel Lazare at antiwar.com:
What’s a political strongman to do when his economy is weak and another round of financial turbulence is on the way? When political support is languishing and a series of budget-busting construction projects has people shaking their head in dismay?
The answer is obvious: he invades another country in order to distract attention and give his poll numbers a boost. Better yet, he invades two countries and then travels to a third in order to make highly bellicose comments about a forth. Then while the press back home buzzes with excitement, he folds his hands and prays that somehow it will all work out.
That’s the situation that Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan finds himself in now that various foreign adventures are going to pot. Turkey has been in economic crisis since 2018 when excessive indebtedness sent the currency plunging while Erdogan’s political standing has been on the wane ever since center-leftists seized control of the Istanbul city government last June.
Two has two very unattractive options in Syria. From Pablo Escobar at asiatimes.com:
Erdogan de facto supports al-Qaeda remnants while facing either humiliating retreat from or total war against Syria
Recep Tayyip Erdogan, neo-Ottoman extraordinaire, is not exactly inclined to commit seppuku, the Japanese act of ritual suicide.
But if not through the perspective of neo-Ottomanism, how to explain the fact he is de facto supporting al-Qaeda remnants in Syria while facing two unsavory options – a humiliating retreat from or total war against the Syrian Arab Army?
Everything about the slowly evolving, messy chessboard in Idlib hinges on highways: the imperative for the government in Damascus to control both the M5 highway between Damascus and Aleppo and the M4 highway between Latakia and Aleppo. Fully reclaiming these two crucial axes will finally turbo-charge the ailing Syrian economy.
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