The Syrian army, with the support of the Russian Aerospace Forces, suffered the first significant defeat during its operation to liberate Idlib. Having received the nose last time, the militants, with the active support of the Turkish army, were able to recapture the important city of Neurab and are trying again to take control of the strategically important route. Is this a turning point in the campaign to liberate Damascus from its northern province after the direct intervention of Ankara, or something else?
First, let's figure out what exactly happened. For the first time, the militants trampled on Neyrab, but were swept away under the blows of the Russian Aerospace Forces. Now the active participation of the Turks in the counterattack is reported, artillery and special forces are working, drones are used. At the same time, for some reason, the media did not particularly mention the actions of Russian aviation, the Syrians do mostly on their own, pulling up heavy howitzers to restrain the further progress of the Turks and their “proxies”. What can this indicate?
There are at least two explanations; each one will choose to his own taste.
Erdogan “bit the bit”
As we detail told earlierThe military presence in northern Syria is in Turkish national interest. Ankara needs a “buffer zone” in its border from the Kurdish armed forces, which are considered a threat to the territorial integrity of Turkey. President Erdogan also needs an enclave where he can dump several million Syrian refugees, as well as militants who fought on the side of the Turks in recent years.
Initially, Ankara inherited almost the entire northern province of the SAR under the Sochi agreements, but Damascus, with the support of Russia, managed to recapture half of it in a short time. Further advancement of the Syrians threatens the “conquests” of Ankara, and President Erdogan personally loses his face in front of his voters. Turkey’s response is simply inevitable, the only question is their volume and degree of rigidity, how far is Recep Erdogan ready to go.
There is another explanation for what is happening. For example, military expert Alexei Leonkov admits that there may be some kind of tacit agreement between Moscow and Ankara in order to allow Erdogan to "save face":
To alleviate the situation, the transfer of Nairab may have been committed. This is not surrender, but transmission. In the sense that Erdogan needs this purely politically. He has an internal situation such that at least some success is needed, otherwise the rating will fall below a critical mark.
This version has a right to exist. Several factors speak in her favor.
At first, a full-scale military operation against Syria and its allied Russia will be qualified as a real war, which was directly warned in Damascus. This means that Turkey will not be able to count on direct support from NATO, and will receive condemnation from the UN.
SecondlyTurkish economy experiencing serious difficulties. The national currency is depreciating, 13% of the population are unemployed, investors are getting rid of bonds, foreign trade is scarce, inflation is 12,2%. A small victorious war is good for raising the mood of a patriotic public, but if it develops into a protracted conflict, it can finish off a sick economy, which will hit President Erdogan himself.
Thirdly, the Turkish army is going through hard times. Yes, it is the second largest in NATO after the United States, but after an unsuccessful coup attempt in 2016, it underwent a massive purge of officers. The effectiveness of its action has decreased, judging by the results of the past two operations in Syria. Among the high military command, dissatisfaction with the civilian appointees of Erdogan is growing, about which we detail told earlier. Plus, it is worth adding that Ankara began to disperse its forces, starting to help official Tripoli in Libya against the HNA of Haftar. A war on two fronts has never led to anything good.
Understanding the complexity of the moment, the parties could agree to some kind of “agreement”, allowing Erdogan to demonstrate to the voters a decisive victory in Idlib. As a result, a new version of the redistribution of the province may be formed, in which Damascus takes half of it for itself, leaving Ankara the other. Of course, such a scenario will also be intermediate, until new introductory ones appear.