Erdoğan taking risks with Assad, Moscow in Syria's Idlib - analyst

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan is taking a risk in Idlib, hoping his recent threats will scare Syria into compromise while receiving the support of Moscow,  wrote Sinan Ülgen, the executive chairman of Istanbul-based think tank EDAM, wrote in Bloomberg on Monday.

Erdoğan is counting on the show of force displayed by the movement of the Turkish army units to scare off Syrian President Bashar Assad and that Russian President Vladimir Putin will not risk losing Russia’s deepening relations with Turkey by unconditionally backing the Syrian advance in Idlib, the article said. 

Tensions have been escalating in Syria’s last rebel-held province of Idlib with Turkey’s recent massive military deployments in the rebel-held enclave giving signs that Turkish and Syrian ground forces might engage in more deadly confrontations in the near future.

Thirteen Turkish soldiers and one Turkish contractor were killed by Syrian shelling in one week in Idlib. Erdoğan has threatened to strike Syrian forces anywhere if attacks continued.

Relations between Ankara and main Assad-backer Moscow have so far remained civil , Ülgen wrote, even though the two countries support opposite sides in the Syrian civil war. 

In 2018, Russia and Turkey signed the Sochi Deal, an agreement of ceasefire in Idlib, a city in northwest Syria close to Turkish borders. The agreement also stated that Turkey would remove radical islamic/jihadist groups from the area, some of which are associated with the opposition. However, the number of these groups has increased since the deal was signed.

Erdoğan told the Assad forces that if they do not move their forces to the east side of the strategic M5 highway which links southern Syria with Aleppo, Turkey could enact “a direct military confrontation,” Ülgen wrote. 

The U.S. support for Turkey is so far limited to verbal, the article said, adding that the EU has remained quiet on the matter. 

Meanwhile, Syrian citizens are now fleeing Idlib and 700,000 of them are near the Turkish border, a cause of panic for Turkey as it cannot afford to add to the existing 3.6 billion refugees. 

With fragile relations on all ends, Ülgen said, Turkey stands alone in accepting the consequences of its actions in Idlib. 

https://www.bloomberg.com/opinion/articles/2020-02-17/turkey-s-erdogan-gambles-on-idlib