Turkey’s Erdoğan will be unable to stop Assad from retaking Idlib - analysis

Even if Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan makes further moves to please Russia by enhancing cooperation in defence industry, he will not succeed in preventing the Syrian army from retaking the control of rebel-held Idlib, veteran Turkish journalist Murat Yetkin wrote in his blog on Saturday.

Erdoğan on Tuesday visited the MAKS 2019 International Air Show in Moscow with his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin and examined Russian Su-35 and Su-57 jets. The Turkish president’s visit took place amid escalated clashes in Idlib, where the forces of Syrian president Bashar Assad lanced a military offensive against jihadi fighters in Idlib.

The Syrian forces have also encircled a Turkish observation post, one of 12 established in Idlib, as a part of deal made in September last year between Turkey and Russia to establish a de-escalation zone in the province.

“It seems like, even if President Tayyip Erdoğan brings the weapons fair in Moscow to Turkey, presents Su-35s, Su-57s, S-40s to the world market in Turkey in order to stop Vladimir Putin in Syria, it will not be able to prevent the Syrian army from retaking Idlib,” Yetkin said.

“Bashar Assad’s visit to Idlib seems close,” the journalist said, adding that the real issue at the moment is where the anti-Assad fighters in Idlib will go.

Ankara since last year has been trying to prevent an escalation of clashes in Idlib, which may lead to a new massive refugee inflow to Turkey.

Syrian regime forces began a unilateral ceasefire in the Idlib de-escalation zone on Friday, the Russian centre for reconciliation of the warring parties said, while footages showing demonstrations in Idlib and car convoys heading to Turkish border were widely shared on social media. One group filmed themselves burning a flag bearing Erdoğan's image.

The ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) is learning the hard way that the “Arab street”, which they once praised, is in fact a volatile, risky place, Yetkin said, adding that all Turks as a result may be forced to pay the price of the AKP’s error in Syria policy judgement.

The population in Idlib does not include civilians who fled to the province to find shelter from Assad’s rage, but also jihadi fighters that may try to enter Turkey if the Syrian army seizes Idlib, he said.

“When asked, the authorities say the new comers will not be allowed to enter into Turkey and will be kept in camps on the other side of the border, but those places are also Syrian territories and such a thing can only happen by Russia’s permission,” the journalist said.

Erdoğan seems like eager to accept whatever Putin says to keep Turkish troops in 12 observation posts in Idlib, according to Yetkin.

“Because he (Erdoğan) knows that withdrawing Turkish soldiers who remain open target to the attacks of the Syrian and regime-affiliated forces will be interpreted by the Turkish public as the indication of a total collapse of Syria policy,” Yetkin said.