Idlib: When the Objectives of the Parties Do Not Coincide

At a meeting between Russian and American Middle East experts recently held in Montreux, Switzerland, the Idlib situation was characterized as a “landmark event”.

Both American and Russian experts agreed that the outcome of the “battle for Idlib” would determine the nature of the entire final stage of the Syrian crisis, including the degree of involvement of such countries as Turkey, Russia, Iran, the USA, and the EU states.

Apparently, the direct participants in the events knew this, and were firm and unwavering in vindicating their positions.

The events in Idlib have actually disclosed the true intentions of Ankara.

Turkey intends, in other words, to take advantage of the crisis and the war in Syria, using them as a “historic chance” to deploy Turkish military contingents on the territory of its neighbouring state to the south on a permanent basis.

It justifies this by citing the “danger” of the penetration of “undesirable elements” into the territory of Turkey, primarily “Kurdish militants”. However, no real evidence of this kind of “cross-border” activity has been confirmed.

Judging from the incoming information, Turkey has begun seriously strengthening the infrastructure of three enclaves in northern Syria with a total area of ​​about 8,000 square kilometres (two 2,000 square km enclaves and one 4,000 square km one).

Moreover, on the basis of a well-thought-out and comprehensive plan, the civilian “development” of these territories is in full swing.

“Under the supervision” of Turkey, special authorities are formed that are not subordinate to Damascus, and a set of measures is being taken to provide the population with everything necessary. The schools have begun to teach the Turkish language.

Ankara is not interested, that the situation in these enclaves in the north of Syria has become a subject of study and criticism in terms of international public opinion.

Because of this, maintaining a “high degree” of confrontation in Idlib should divert attention from what is happening in northern Syria.

The argument of Turkish politicians to justify their actions in Idlib comes down to the fact that they act in accordace with agreements regarding the creation of a “de-escalation zone” in this area, where only contingents of military observers from Turkey and Russia can be deployed.

These agreements are temporary in nature and are associated with Turkey’s obligations to implement a number of measures aimed at isolating terrorist groups and ensuring the security of major transport arteries located in the area adjacent to Idlib.

The Syrian side quite obviously emphasizes, that Ankara is not going to fulfil its obligations. At the same time, terrorists make their raids from the territory of Idlib. Damascus has proposed announcing the completion of the temporary agreements, which means the termination of the mission of the Turkish military observers.

The Turkish side objects, explaining that the rejection of the de-escalation zone can only happen in accordance with the relevant agreements between Moscow and Ankara.

Thus, the positions of the parties - Damascus and Ankara - are absolutely in discord, and there is a steady expansion of the zone of direct military confrontation between Turkish and Syrian forces.

The Russian side is, frankly speaking, in a difficult situation.

At one time, when discussing the issue of providing Russian direct military assistance to the Assad government, it was said that the actions of the Russian air forces and other military units would be carried out in order to combat gangs of international terrorists, such as ISIS. At the same time it was assumed, that Russia would refrain from participating in the regional "wrangles".

Now, Turkey again, as in 2015, is openly coordinating its actions with terrorists, and this forces Russia to determine the parameters of its military-political behaviour in the current extremely dangerous situation.

It seems that the line of Moscow should be quite tough. The implementation of a “flexible” tactical line over the past decades on Russia’s western borders was not justified. The advancement of NATO and the growing activity of the Alliance at our borders has been steadily going on all these years. We must not allow our positions to be “cut off” from the South, either.

Moscow’s energetic, ambitious line in Syrian affairs with a well-calculated and optimal power component has led to the strengthening of Russia’s authority, not only in the region, but also throughout the world. It would be important to continue the implementation of this line in order to strengthen Russia’s national security.

Views expressed are of individual Members and Contributors, rather than the Club's, unless explicitly stated otherwise.