End Game Looms for Turkey in Idlib, as Russia Reacts to Its Planned Joint Operation Room With the US
End Game Looms for Turkey in Idlib, as Russia Reacts to Its Planned Joint Operation Room With the US by Fehim Tastekin for Check Point Asia
“Despite the high-pitched rhetoric, Turkey is in a tight spot, with little room to maneuver”
In the chess game in Idlib, which has seen both collaboration and rivalry between Turkey and Russia, Ankara was placed in check for the first time this week. The Syrian army and its allies captured Khan Sheikhoun, a key town in the rebel-held province, soon after they resumed their offensive on Idlib as Turkey reached a deal with the United States to jointly create a safe zone in Kurdish-held areas east of the Euphrates River.
The fall of Khan Sheikhoun marks a major debacle for the rebel forces and puts Turkey inside the circle of fire. The Turkish military’s base at Morek — one of the 12 Turkish observation posts set up around Idlib as part of a de-escalation plan — is now under a siege by the Syrian army. Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said Turkey has no intention of retreating, with Russian and Turkish military officials starting talks Aug. 21 to decide the fate of the Morek outpost.
There is ample reason to suggest that the thrust on Khan Sheikhoun was a response to Turkey’s plan to set up a joint operation room with the United States under the safe zone accord, a move that will change the equilibrium in Syria. The accord, announced Aug. 7 at the end of Turkish-US talks in Ankara, alarmed Russia over Turkey’s intentions. Moscow was already wary that Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan could play a double game as it sought to maintain strategic cooperation with Ankara, both through the Astana process and the sale of the S-400 air defense systems.
Clearly, a safe zone to curb the Kurds to the east of the Euphrates will preclude the Syrian state’s return to those areas. Also, in the event of a revived Turkish-American partnership in Syria, Turkey’s military presence in areas it seized in the Euphrates Shield and Olive Branch operations coupled with its observation posts in Idlib could go out of the bounds of Russia’s game plan. This possibility, too, is prompting Moscow to play hardball.