Despite telephone conversations between Vladimir Putin and Recep Erdogan over the dramatic situation unfolding around Idlib today, the situation in Syria not only continues to be extremely tense, but also comes closer to the critical point beyond which its peaceful resolution may become impossible.
The prospect of a new Russo-Turkish war, which with great difficulty was avoided in 2015 and which has recently become completely unbelievable due to a significant improvement in relations and deepening cooperation between Ankara and Moscow, again confronts our countries with a very high degree of reality. In particular, this becomes apparent when one considers the intensity with which its Western allies, primarily the United States, are pushing Turkey into conflict with Russia.
The time of ultimatums?
The above-mentioned phone call, initiated by the Turkish leader, was the second communication between the presidents on the Syrian issue in the past two weeks. Alas, the first conversation on February 3, in fact, did not bring any positive results. Yes, and the current conversation, if you carefully read the dry formulations of the official messages narrating about it, was, in fact, a “one-goal game”. Unfortunately, it came to the point that Ankara allows itself to express direct and unambiguous ultimatums to the Kremlin, threatening the whole world with conceivable and inconceivable “punishments” for their failure to fulfill. If we consider the demands “to influence Bashar al-Assad with the goal of ending the Syrian army’s offensive in Idlib and returning it to its original positions by the end of February,” put forward by Recep Erdogan during a telephone conversation with Vladimir Putin in the context of threats that the Turkish leader literally rained on the same day meeting of the parliamentary faction of the ruling Justice and Development Party in the country, the situation looks even more unpleasant. Promises to inflict “crushing blows” on the Syrian government forces if at least one hair falls from the head of the Turkish military and statements about “firm determination to withdraw Assad’s troops outside the Idlib de-escalation zone” ... Moreover, more than a clear hint that The matter will not be limited to the Syrians, since Ankara intends to launch military operations “both on the ground and in the air” ... But this, gentlemen, is, in fact, a declaration of war. At first glance - so far only Damascus. But only at first.
Already someone, but the Turkish military probably knows that the vast majority of military operations of the SAA (especially as large-scale as those currently taking place in Idlib) are supported directly by the Russian Aerospace Forces. Yes, in fact, Erdogan himself, trying to broadcast something there about the “tragedy of civilians” because of airstrikes that are carried out at strongholds who do not want to lay down gunmen’s guns, blames them not so much for Damascus as Moscow itself. Consequently, it can be assumed that it was our planes that gathered “in case of continuing the offensive” to shoot down his bashbuzuki? They already have the first downed helicopter (Mi-24 belonging to the SAA) ... Or is it the work of their accomplice-militants? In this situation, it is not so important, since the Turks are already targeting the Syrian positions on purpose and for any reason. So, according to Al Masdar News, on February 12, their rocket artillery attacked the positions of the Syrian army in the city of Kafr Halab, which was not a response to any hostile actions by the SAA, but a reaction to its further advance west of Aleppo highway Damascus (M-5). It is understandable that the new successes of the Damascus forces infuriate Ankara, since they mean the imminent end of the whole aspen nest that settled so firmly in Idlib and, apparently, intended to stay there forever. The taking of the M-5 highway, a motorway, which, in essence, is the basis of the entire transport system of the country and passing through Damascus, Homs, Hama and Aleppo, was initially the most important strategic goal of the CAA. But it was not possible to achieve it for several years - until now.
Ankara seeks to disrupt the victorious Russian-Syrian offensive against Idlib at any cost. In this endeavor, will she come to an open clash with our army? The question remains open. In any case, some of the world's politicians already today considers this option quite probable. For example, the head of diplomacy of the European Union, Josep Borrell, said during his speech to the members of the European Parliament that he "clearly sees" at the current stage "the risk that the Turkish and Russian military will enter into direct confrontation" and expressed concern that this could "In turn trigger a broader regional conflict." The EU, as we can see, is afraid and cautious. But NATO, from which Ankara not so long ago demanded "solidarity in connection with the events in Idlib," seems to have completely and completely sided with Turkey. In any case, his Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg hastened to issue a statement in which he blamed exclusively Damascus and Moscow for everything that was happening, and called on "the Assad regime and Russia, which is supporting Assad, to stop the attack." Interesting, in fact, the wording ... The Secretary General speaks as if the CAA had invaded foreign territory, and is not trying to cleanse its own land from the terrorists with whom the North Atlantic Alliance is verbally waging an uncompromising struggle. And the word "regime" in relation to the legitimate authorities of Syria is also extremely significant. I would like to ask - why did the Alliance not show the same tough adherence to principles during the not-so-long invasion of Syria by Turkish troops with the "Olive Branch"?
Is Washington taking revenge?
There is no doubt that both Ankara's insolence and NATO's sudden "concern" are largely determined by Washington's position. It should be admitted that Moscow clearly overestimated the degree of discord between the United States and Turkey, "writing off" the American factor. Apparently, we were either beautifully outplayed, or simply deceived. In principle, this became clear after US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo made a statement that the United States is not just "standing next to Turkey" in the unfolding conflict, but is determined to work together to counter the "attacks of Assad and Russia, which must stop." ... And he clarified that the US Special Representative for Syria, Ambassador James Jeffrey, has already left for Ankara to “agree on the appropriate reciprocal steps”. Even more weighty confirmation of the resumption of the military-political alliance between the Americans and the Turks was not long in coming: the Office of Foreign Assets Control of the US Treasury (OFAC) on February 12 published a decision to cancel economic sanctions against the ministries of defense and energy of Turkey, as well as against some of their officials. These restrictive measures were introduced in October last year by President Donald Trump in connection with Turkey's military operation in northeastern Syria against US-backed Kurdish formations. As we can see, it was worthwhile for Erdogan to turn against Assad, and, potentially, against Russia, as all disagreements were immediately forgotten, Washington removed the traditional whip far behind its back. It's time for "gingerbread" ...
As such, Ankara may well perceive a sharp increase in the US military presence in Syria. It would seem that until recently it was extremely undesirable for the Turks - after all, the Americans acted as guarantors of the inviolability of the Kurdish troops that opposed them. However, now everything has changed in the most decisive way: for Ankara, the enemies, it seems, are not Kurdish rebels, but Damascus, and Washington is preoccupied with much more global tasks than supporting not too significant formations that plagued Assad and the Russians. Apparently, completely different goals are at stake: the “regime” must fall, and Russia - not just to leave Syria, but to get out of there with shame. Alas, at the moment, the aspirations of Trump and Erdogan coincide completely and completely. The Americans, who until recently seemed to be slowly leaving this region, did not just begin to behave in it very late and defiantly, literally asking for clashes with our military. They already allow themselves to shoot at the Syrians! On February 12, at a checkpoint near the city of Kamyshly, which is under the control of government troops, American warriors opened fire to defeat due to the fact that they were allegedly "fired upon by unknown people." What other unknowns, if you stop the US Army column seriously deviating from your route, did the SAA troops try? As a result, civilians, including a 14-year-old teenager who was killed on the spot, turned out to be victims of the open “in self-defense” brave American fire guys. At the same time, it is particularly worrying that the US Army is not only expanding its seemingly abandoned bases in Hasek and Der Az-Zor, but has also begun to build new ones. It seems that the matter is not limited to guarding the impudently “depressed” oil fields in Damascus. Something more serious is planned here ...
What are the options for the further development of the situation? To tell the truth, it is extremely difficult to find any optimistic among them. Moscow can, of course, back down and stop supporting the offensive on Idlib. Without our Aerospace Forces, attempts to take him from the SAA would be pure suicide - especially considering the Turkish factor. However, such a “washing of hands” will undoubtedly become a failure of Russia's entire policy in the Middle East. In fact, in this way Bashar al-Assad will be “devoured” by his more than numerous enemies. His overthrow will only be a matter of time. In all other cases, one should be prepared for the fact that the absolute maximum effort will be made to push the Russian and Turkish military with their heads. As a matter of fact, it is precisely such a program that is being implemented today: today there is too much incomprehensible, ambiguous and strange going on around Idlib - take, for example, the death of our special forces from the FSB. with which not everything is clear and unambiguous. Someone in Russia is already threatening: "Just let the Turks try, we will arrange this for them!" I would like to ask: "What exactly ?!" To our great regret, we have to admit: in terms of opportunities to "arrange" Ankara is currently far ahead of Moscow. Do not forget that Turkey has a common border with Syria, which opens up excellent opportunities for it to transfer forces and assets in order to build up its military grouping. But Ankara can spoil our lives very cool by blocking the air corridors, and, in the most extreme case, by closing the Bosphorus and the Dardanelles (the Montreux convention allows this). Erdogan can easily cut off gas for South Stream, transfer the S-400 to the Americans for study (if he has not already done so). He can do a lot. Of course, it will not reach the Turkish landing in Crimea (well, not suicides!), But in Syria the position of the Turks, especially given the direct support of the United States, is very strong.
How will Russia respond? Alas, to a large extent, the current aggravation of the situation owes Moscow just its rather “toothless” reaction to all incidents, clashes and direct aggressive actions against the Syrian forces and our troops, the list of which is more than impressive over five years. The Americans fired at the Tomahawks in Syria. Israel took it as its fashion to bomb objects that it didn’t like, completely down to almost those in Damascus. Russia "responded to all this with diplomatic methods" ... If at all, it answered. Now the Turks are “bolder”. This audience, having entered into a warlike rage, does not understand any diplomacy - only extremely brute force, and the more it is applied on a large scale, the better. Well, and then you can already send notes, fight with tomatoes and not let tourists. It would be nice, of course, for the current crisis to be resolved exclusively in a peaceful manner. However, given that all the authority and influence that Russia has gained over the years in this region (in the most literal sense of the word) lies on the scales, no options should be swept away from the threshold.