In Syria, Turkey could face wrath of Russian S-400 - analysis

Turkey’s increasing military presence in northwest Syria’s Idlib province could lead the Turkish air force into a battle with Russia’s S-400 missile defence system -- the same system Ankara is in the midst of installing back home, said an analysis for the Washington Examiner. 

Turkish-Syrian tensions spiked on Monday when Russian-allied Syrian planes bombed a Turkish convoy entering Idlib province to supply rebels, killing at least three Syrian civilians. 

Fighting around Khan Sheikhoun broke out this past weekend and has killed at least 59 militants and rebels as well as 28 members of pro-government forces, according to the U.K.-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. 

Syrian-Russian axis forces have driven out most of the city's 100,000 inhabitants and have nearly seized the M-5 highway, which Turkey needs to resupply its military observation post bordering Hama province.  

“The situation around Khan Shaykhoun attests to an escalated axis effort to dramatically reduce Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan's influence in Syria,” Examiner columnist Tom Rogan wrote on Monday, adding that Erdoğan's continuing support for rebel groups, including al-Qaeda-linked Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS), has infuriated the axis. 

The Syrian-Russian goal is cut off Turkey’s access, weaken its resolve and create the space for a final push on Idlib, the last rebel-held stronghold, and crush the resistance, according to Rogan. But Ankara’s presence in Idlib is on the rise. 

“In addition to having 3 armored convoys in #Idlib & a brief flyover of F-16s, #Turkey also appears to have had 1-2 Bayraktar TB2 drones flying in close proximity to Khan Sheikhoun, sharing airspace with #Russia & #Syria jets,” Charles Lister, senior fellow and director of the counter-terrorism program at the Middle East Institute, said in a tweet on Monday. 

Yet Rogan is confident that Putin is willing to gamble that Erdoğan is bluffing, mainly because of the threat faced by Turkish forces.  

“The Russians are far weaker in Syria than they pretend, but the same S-400 air defense platform that Erdoğan has bought from Putin, is operated by Russian forces in Syria,” he said. “It would impose heavy costs on the Turkish air force in any fight.”