Although the Coronavirus has become the main subject of interest in Turkey and the rest of the world, the geopolitical struggle in Syria also continues.
After the martyrdom of 36 Turkish soldiers in Idlib, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin met in Moscow where they signed an agreement which included a ceasefire in Idlib, a security corridor set up along a key east-west highway and joint patrols from both countries’ soldiers in the region.
Jihadist provocations in Idlib
On March 15, the Turkish Ministry of Defense announced that Turkey and Russia had completed their first joint military patrol along the M4 highway linking Syria’s east and west.
However, on the same day, the Russian Ministry of Defense declared that “in order to inflict provocations, terrorists were trying to use the civilians as a human shield” forcing the joint military patrol to be cut short.
The Turkish side has been silent about the reason the first patrol was cut short.
On March 19, Turkish troops came under rocket fire near Mount Zawiya on the M4 Highway. Three Turkish soldiers lost their lives during the attack. After the attack, the Turkish Ministry of Defense said that the attack was organized by “some radical groups” and that the Turkish army “retaliated against the attack immediately” by hitting the determined targets. The area where the Turkish troops were attacked is known to be an operation base for Al Qaeda-affiliated groups.
The groups provoking the Turkish-Russian joint patrol and the groups which targeted Turkish troops just five days after are likely being controlled from the same place. Some of these Al Qaeda-affiliated groups have openly refused the March 5 deal between Ankara and Moscow.
These separate attacks have mainly targeted Turkish-Russian cooperation in Syria; the martyrdom of the 3 Turkish soldiers is undoubtedly a message to Ankara.
The longer Turkey remains tied up in #Idlib/#Syria, according to Rear Admiral in retirement Mustafa Özbey, the more serious problems it will face in the near future.https://t.co/qTzZujPFZF @Mustafa52341612
— United World International (@uwidata) March 23, 2020
Ankara and Moscow’s next step
Ankara and Moscow clearly do not want to lose each other as allies, something which has been made clear in the insistence on cooperation between the two capitals despite such heartbreaking incidents. Today, the ceasefire and the agreement in Idlib are important tests for these two Eurasian countries.
It is well known that most of the groups that carry out such provocations in the region are soldiers of fortune hired by various intelligence agencies. The United States is one of the main forces opposed to Turkish-Russian cooperation.
The Coronavirus has put a temporary pause on political and military movement in Syria as it has throughout the whole world. This is unfortunately clearly a suitable environment for terrorist organizations in the region. New provocations are likely to occur in the coming days. At this point, the persistence of Turkey and Russia’s joint patrols is a necessity.
The Russian side is playing a more active role than Ankara in the fight against jihadist groups, helping to ease the pressure on Turkey in Idlib. As the fight against the jihadists goes on, Moscow and Damascus’ actions against the US-backed PKK/YPG terrorist organizations operating in the east of the Euphrates River will help accelerate the clean-up in Idlib and strengthen the trust of the Turkish side. As the world works its way through this difficult period, regional cooperation is more critical than ever.
— United World International (@uwidata) March 15, 2020