Russia’s Putin the victor in Idlib ceasefire – analyst

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan saved face with a destructive offensive against Syrian government forces to retaliate for the dozens of Turkish troops they killed in Idlib, northwest Syria, but it is Russian President Vladimir Putin who won the strategic victory in Thursday’s ceasefire deal, said National Defense University professor Ömer Taşpınar in an op-ed for the Asia Times.

For months Syrian President Bashar Assad’s forces have been pressing their offensive, with Russian air support, on the country’s last rebel-held province, and Thursday’s ceasefire has halted the offensive, but allowed the Syrian government to retain the territory it seized.

On Feb. 27, a Syrian government bombardment killed 34 Turkish soldiers deployed to the province to stave off the offensive, which Turkey fears will leave its borders overrun as more than a million people displaced Idlib have nowhere left to run.

Putin denied that Russia or Assad’s forces were informed of the Turkish soldiers’ whereabouts. But the attack was a clear message to Erdoğan to stop supporting the Syrian rebels, whom Putin and Assad consider terrorists, and prepare to get out of Syria, said Taşpınar.

This attack was a humiliation for Turkey, which without strong Western support was unable to hold Russia responsible, and the retaliatory assault proved to be highly destructive to Syrian government forces, but was mostly a face-saving operation for Erdoğan, the scholar said.

Thus, Turkey’s response to losing its troops remained on Russia’s terms, and did not involve any Russian targets, and it allowed Putin to keep his close relations with Erdoğan that serve a broader strategic goal of weakening NATO, he said.

The Turkish president’s “consolation was that brief show of military might that allowed him to claim some tactical gains in Idlib,” said Taşpınar. “But the strategic victory in Syria once again clearly belongs to Moscow.”