ANKARA: Turkish troops are making sweeping territorial gains in northern Syria, fuelling speculation that Ankara and Moscow are secretly working together to establish greater control over the war. Sections of the Turkish media reported that the center of Tel Rifaat city in northern Syria was encircled on Tuesday after up to 100 Russian police officers mysteriously pulled out of the area, allowing the soldiers and members of the Free Syrian Army (FSA) to enter.
Turkish gains in Syria fuel Russia alliance speculation
Turkey’s territorial gains in Syria are fueling speculation that Ankara and Moscow are working together to establish greater control over the country, Arab News reported.
The latest signs of cooperation came on Tuesday of this week, when as many as 100 Russian security personnel pulled out of Tel Rifaat city in northern Syria to allow fighters of the pro-Turkey Free Syrian Army to enter, Arab News said.
The collapse of Tel Rifaat, under control of Kurdish militants, is imminent, the news service said.
Turkey and Russia’s continued cooperation in northern Syria – Russian troops pulled out of the Afrin region before Turkey’s military incursion in January – is the clearest sign yet that the two countries are secretly working together in “a double game, swapping territory and selling out guerilla factions that they had previously supported, in an attempt to improve their strategic footholds in the country,” Arab News said citing military analysts.
While there was no absolute proof of a quid pro quo, the fact that Russian forces left Tel Rifaat “just hours before the operation started points to fairly close coordination and ongoing negotiations”, said Magdalena Kirchner of the Istanbul Policy Center, according to Arab News.
Turkey is causing disquiet among its allies in NATO by cosying up to Russia. Plans by Ankara to buy Russian made S-400 missiles have added to the impression that Turkey is drifting away from the West and into the arms of President Vladimir Putin. Members of the U.S. Congress are reportedly considering freezing a Turkish order for F-35 stealth aircraft amid worsening political and military relations.
Ankara has also failed to follow other NATO members and expel Russian diplomats for Moscow’s alleged poisoning of a Russian double-agent in Britain.
On Tuesday, Putin and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan discussed plans for a Syria summit they are due to hold in Ankara next week. Iran will also attend the meeting, Arab News said.