Russian backing of Assad could drive Turkey away - columnist

Turkey has been pushed into a state of war thanks to conflicts in neighbouring countries and now its partnership with Russia is under threat because Moscow favours the Syrian government, said columnist Mehmet Barlas in Sabah, a daily linked to the Turkish government.

On Monday, eight Turkish personnel were killed by shelling by the Syrian government in Idlib governorate, the last major rebel-held area in Syria where Turkish troops were deployed in observation posts in earlier attempts to de-escalate the conflict.

Turkey responded by pounding Syrian government positions, and said it had killed dozens of troops loyal to Syrian President Bashar Assad. The escalation threatened an entente that has seen Turkey and Russia cooperate for years despite supporting opposing sides in the war.

“If Russia continues to follow a line favouring Assad, Ankara could well review its relations with Moscow,” said Barlas, a journalist who is known for close links to leading figures in the Turkish government.

The Syrian conflict was the cause of a rift between the two countries that started in November 2015 when Turkish forces shot down a Russian jet near the Turkish border with Syria. Russia’s response drastically reduced its purchases of Turkish exports and deprived Turkey’s tourism sector of custom from Russian tourists, who make up a significant number of annual visitors.

A letter Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan sent to his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin in June 2016 helped heal the rift, and the two countries have cooperated in the Syrian conflict, as well as in various defence and energy deals since then.