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07/16/2020

The Geopolitics of the attack on the Turkish-Russian patrol in Syria

The Geopolitics of the attack on the Turkish-Russian patrol in Syria

On July 14, a joint Turkish-Russian patrol along the M4 highway was hit by an explosion in the Syrian province of Idlib, damaging a Russian APC-82 and a Turkish Kirpi armoured vehicle.

The attack took place near Arihalocality in the southern part of the Idlib de-escalation zone. It was later discovered that an improvisedexplosive device was detonated along the convoy’s route.

Responsibility for the attack was claimed by Kataib Khattab Al-Shisani, a group believed to be part of Jaishal-Muhajirin Wal-Ansar, which is largely composed of the citizens of former Soviet republics.

In June 2020, Jaish al-Muhajireen wal-Ansar, which had in the past collaboarated with ISIS, split from Hayat Tahrir al-Sham, and joined several other jihadist groups including the Guardians of Religion Organization and the Ansar al-Din Front.

There are injuries from both Turkish and Russian military. After the attack the Russian Komsomol attacked the militants’ bases in Idlib.

According to the statement of the Turkish Defense Ministry, the explosive device was aimed at disruption to ensure an environment of peace and trust in Idlib.

History of attacks on M4

Turkish PresidentRecep Tayyip Erdogan and Russian President Vladimir Putinagreed on a ceasefire regime in Idlib at negotiations in Moscow on March 5.

The parties also agreed an additional protocol, under the terms of which all hostilities on the line of contact in Idlib were terminated and a so-called security corridor along the highway M4 passing through Idlib was created. The highway in Idlib and Eastern Syria – in the area of the Turkish Operation “Source of Peace” – were to be controlled by Russian and Turkish military patrols. This was widely seen as a confidence building measure.

The reason for the summit talks was the sharp escalation of the situation in the province, as a result of which Turkey lost at least 62 soldiers in January-February.

At the beginning of thesummer, the M4 highway and patrols of the Turkish and Russian military were repeatedly attacked, both in areas where the Islamists are active and in areas where Kurdish separatists are active.

On March 19, militants attacked a Turkish military convoy on M4 near the village of Mkhambal. The attack, for which none of the groups claimed responsibility, killed two Turkish soldiers.

At the end of May, a home-made bomb blew up aTurkish armoured vehicle that was driving along the M4 highway through the Idlib de-escalation zoneleaving one soldier dead. The terrorist group Al-Islamad-Turkestani was behind the explosion.

On July 9, a bomb exploded under a Russian armoured vehicle that was part of a patrol in northern Syria. The incident took place near the town of Kobani, where YPG forces closeto terrorist PKK are presented.

On June 16, a Russian armoured vehicle exploded during a joint patrol with Turkey in Syria. Militants from Kataib Khattab Al-Shishani also claimed responsibility at the time.

Around the same time, the Hayyat Tahrir Al-Sham group which dominates Idlib organized a roadblock in an attempt to prevent the patrol from passing.

Other similar actions have taken place, including a demonstration of alleged “popular” dissatisfaction with the patrols took place in eastern Syria, where PYD-YPD supporters threwstones at Russians participating in jointpatrols.

This marked two centers of resistance to joint Turkish-Russian patrols in Syria – Idlib Islamists and Kurdish pro-American separatists from the de facto branch of PKK.

Geopolitical context

The latest bombing of the Turkish and Russian military takes place against the backdrop of escalating tensions at points where Turkish and Russian interests overlap. Primarily this has been taking place in Libya, where Moscow stands with General Khalifa Haftar and the coalition of the UAE, Saudi Arabia, Egypt and France.

However, the strength of this coalition and the fact that all its members pursue the same interests are in doubt. Turkey is not hiding that it is ready for an operation to take Sirte. Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu said this the day before.

Egypt, however, threatens to bring its troops into Libya in this case. The Libyan national army (LNA) of the Khalifa Haftar is adding fuel tothe fire, reporting that the battle for Sirte is imminent.

LNA spokesman Ahmed al-Mismari told al-Hadath that there would be a major battle in the coming hours around Sirte and al-Jufra. He said that large movements of armed groups of the Government of National Accord of Libya (GNA) and Turkey had been observed in close proximity to the two cities.

Another new point of tension is the intensified military conflict between Azerbaijan and Armenia. Since Sunday, June 12, mutual shelling has been taking place on the border between Armenia and Azerbaijan. In the shootings not only representatives of the rank and file of the army of Azerbaijan were killed including one General of the Azerbaijani army. On the night of July 15, a mass meeting was held in Baku with calls to start war with Armenia.

Turkish President Recep Erdogan promised to provide comprehensive assistance to Azerbaijan to combat aggressive actions of Armenia.

Azerbaijani Ambassador to Moscow Polad Bülbüloğlu said the provocation on the border between Azerbaijan and Armenia was conducted in order “to involve the CSTO (military alliance, which includes Armenia and Russia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan) in this conflict, and of course, above all, Russia.”

The activation of militants in Syria is not accidental due to new points of tension, which can separate Russia and Turkey on different sides of the conflicts. This gives them a chance to upset the interaction between the sides, to provoke Russia to actions against the militants, which in the context of a general complication of Russian-Turkish relations may lead to a new escalation in Idlib.

The opponents of Russia-Turkey rapprochement – that is, the US and its European allies, as well as foreign sponsors of the militants – are primarily interested insparking this new escalation. At the same time, the militant attack demonstrates that Turkey and Russia have common enemies in Syria: radical Islamists and Kurdish separatists.

United World International

Independent analytical center where political scientists and experts in international relations from various countries exchange their opinions and views.

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