Jun 01 2019

Moscow unlikely to back all-out Idlib operation to protect alliance with Turkey - AP

Though the escalation of violence in Syria’s Idlib tests the relations between Moscow and Ankara, Russia is unlikely to support an all-out Syrian operation in the last major rebel-held enclave due to benefits of sustaining alliance with Turkey, Associated Press said on Saturday. 

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said on Friday that Turkey was responsible of stopping jihadi fighters in Idlib, a statement, which, according to Reuters, showed Moscow was unmoved by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s calls for ceasefire.  

The Turkish president in a phone call late on Thursday told his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin that he wanted a ceasefire in Idlib to prevent more civilian deaths and a refugee influx to Turkey.

Violence escalated in Idlib this month, with intense bombardment of Syria and Russia that  has targeted civilian infrastructure including schools and hospitals and has killed dozens of civilians. 

But, though Russia provides air cover in the Syrian government offensive, “Moscow is unlikely to support an all-out Syrian operation in Idlib because the benefits of a long-term alliance with Turkey outweigh one military battle,” AP said. 

“Russia doesn’t want to ruin its relationship with Turkey because of Idlib,” AP quoted Kirill Semenov, a Moscow-based Middle East analyst and expert at the Russian International Affairs Council, as saying. 

According to Aaron Stein, the director of the Middle East program in Foreign Policy Research Institute, Erdoğan and Putin “have an incentive to cooperate and ensure that nobody’s interests are totally trampled.”

The two leaders in September struck a deal prevent a military assault of the Syrian government in Idlib, which hosts around 3 million internally displaced people. According to the deal, Turkey agreed to create a demilitarised buffer zone and remove extremist fighters such as those belonging to al-Qaeda-linked Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham (HTS).

Meanwhile, the Turkish government is determined to go ahead with plans to acquire Russian S-400 missile system, risking its relations with Washington, which in the last couple of months have repeatedly warned Turkey that this decision may have grave consequences.

Turkey also seeks Moscow’s support for establishing a safe zone in northern Syria to remove U.S.-backed Kurdish militia, which Ankara sees as a threat to its national security. 

Emre Ersan, an associate professor of international relations and political science at Istanbul’s Marmara University, told AP that Turkey could be open to some limited Syrian operation toward Idlib in exchange for Moscow’s support in northern Syria.