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.)
Turkey is trying to use refugee flows into Europe as a lever to get European assistance for its war in Syria. From Tim Kirby at strategic-culture.org:
It now looks like Europe may be moving towards Migrant Crisis 2.0 as footage from the Greek border is pouring in over the Mainstream Media. However the key player to pay attention to is Turkey, they may have started the new migration problem and thus they may be the ones who can end it.
The original Migrant Crisis at the start of the Syrian Civil War in 2011 was portrayed as an organic consequence of events that happened on their own. The Mainstream Media pushed hard to sell the idea of the migrants as victims of either circumstance or Assad, who deserved to get everything they want from the wealthy West. However, this time around the narrative is surprisingly different (at least for the moment) as Migrant Crisis 2.0 is not really getting much media push, in fact the opposite appears to be happening, possibly due to the fact that Erdogan made it so bluntly clear that with his decision to allow migrants to leave Turkey is directly connected to his failures in Syria. If he doesn’t get a piece of Syria, then Europe will.
Alastair Crooke tries to make sense of the always confusing Middle East. From Crooke at strategic-culture.org:
The End of an Era. When the first World War came to its end, intimations of an end to the European Era were already evident in symptoms: aching diplomatic joints, straitened perceptual political vision and the general financial health of the patient about to turn acute, as the constipated monetary policies of the Central Banks ushered in the Great Depression. But ‘life’ went on: European men and women wildly danced the Cancan throughout the 1920s; It was Cabaret, party time. No one wanted to acknowledge the omens of what lay afore them.
Last month, an Israeli academic opined that the future shape of the Middle East lies in the hands of three ‘insider’ states: Iran, Turkey and Israel. It was an interesting observation. None are Arab; and it implied an incremental US disengagement, and a modest ‘king-maker’ role for Russia.
What makes this statement intriguing is the focus on just three states and the downplay of external intervention as the key ‘shaper’ of the future strategic ‘map’. Implicit here is that all three are flexing their military muscles. But diplomats and political analysts usually prefer to stay at the plane of politics and national interests. They dislike the fact that the outcome of military contestation, per se, can determine political outcomes, and thus validate or negate national interests. It is offensive to diplomacy. But often, it is just so. The region at this time is not really susceptible to a direct conceptual approach: So, the focus on the outcome of military contestation, trials of strength, and then on the other – quite different dynamic – of Covid-19 and its economic effects, makes more sense than traditional purely political calculus of interests.
How far will Russia go to help Syria liberate Idlib? From Patrick Lawrence at consortiumnews.com:
Turkey’s leader, who nurses dreams of some kind of neo–Ottoman restoration across the Middle East, is now on a reckless tear.
Russian President Vladimir Putin and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan at a press conference in Turkey, Dec. 1, 2014. (Russian government)
As Recip Tayyip Erdogan prosecutes his latest military intrusion southward into Syria, all the old mythologies about the Turkish president and the 9-year-old Syrian conflict are rehearsed once again, hopelessly threadbare as they are. The problem now is not the fog of war. The problem is the war of fog.
Let us be clear from the start, then, as to what has unfolded since last week and what will be the desired outcome. The Syrian Arab Army, a force for good, must not stop short of decisive victory in Idlib, the governorate in northwest Syria sheltering the last jihadist militias operating on Syrian soil. Russia, which is correctly (and legally) supporting the S.A.A.’s campaign, should try to avoid a direct conflict with a NATO member but should engage Turkish forces if there is no alternative.
NATO, breaking its own Article 5 covenant, will not come to the aid of a member nation engaged in so despicable an assault on another sovereign nation. I am not alone in holding this opinion. Don’t forget: Most NATO members are squeamish, mealy-mouthed Europeans who have given up the ghost in Syria.
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.
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