2018-08-31

What Turkey expects from military operation in Idlib?


Intensive diplomatic traffic between the participants of the Astana mechanism for the settlement of Syrian conflict may indicate the next stage in the implementation of plans to stabilize the civil war. This time we are talking about elimination of the terrorist threat in the Syrian Idlib province. Obviously, the solution of the problem of terrorism is Turkey's interest in the conflict, prolonged consultations between Ankara and Moscow , however, show that Idlib's stabilization will not be possible without taking into account related Turkish interests.

One of the main foreign policy news of August was the meetings of Turkish and Russian officials. So, on August 17 and 24 Moscow was visited by the head of the Turkish military head Hulusi Akar and the National Intelligence director Hakan Fidan, the subject of the negotiations between the Turkish officials and their Russian counterparts were the technical details of the forthcoming military operation in Idlib. Political consultations between the parties were held on August 2, 14 and 24 as well, through the diplomatic channels. It is expected that relevant decisions between Russia and Turkey will be fixed at the highest level at the upcoming meeting of the heads of countries, most probably during the summit on September 7, in Iran.


Triumvirate for Syria

Much attention to such events is caused primarily by the weight of Russia and Turkey in Syrian affairs, especially in the military-political situation in Idlib, the last of the four de-escalation zones established within the framework of Astana agreements. In a province with a population of more than 2 million people there are reportedly more than 80,000 armed fighters, mainly supporters and members of the international terrorist organization like Nusra, affiliated with Al-Qaeda. It seems that Moscow and Ankara are engaged in political bargaining around the issue of how the terrorist threat will be tackled and what role moderate opposition groups can play within such measures.

Principle requirements of the Russian leadership deal with the need to destroy terrorist organizations in Idlib. As a justification, Russian diplomats negotiate agreements with Turkish and Iranian counterparts on joint offensive against radical groups designated by UN Security Council resolution 2401 on the list of terrorist groups. In addition, Russia's perseverance in implimentation of urgent measures against the terrorists in Idlib is dictated by the desire to stop the drone attacks on the Russian military facilities and positions of the Syrian army.


Turkey's new security concept may lead to
a dialogue with Damascus

Obviously, Russia all this time has been counting on Turkish cooperation, Ankara's influence could be used to control the whole territory of the province. However, the calculation was not justified, evidently due to Turkey's reluctance or inability to directly put pressure on terrorists and contribute to their dissolution. Finally, the need for an operation against terrorists is dictated by the desire of Russia to improve the situation in the territories under Turkey's control. Stability of political situation and security are the main conditions for the return of Syrian refugees, and with them, and a main prerequisite for a begin of a dialogue with Western countries on providing assistance for reconstruction in Syria.

The stumbling factor between Turkey and Russia has been the question of the need for a whole scale military operation. Turkey insists that the joint military operation of Syrian troops and Russian military in the province can trigger a new wave of Syrian refugees: according to estimates of the Turkish side, in the border provinces of Turkey may be 250-500 thousand people. In addition, Turkey fears that under the pretext of fighting terrorists, whose positions are often close to the places where moderate groups are deployed, the Syrian army can attack Turkish partners in Syria, thus jeopardizing the entire mechanism of cooperation within the framework of the Astana agreements.

The lengthy consultations between Turkish and Russian diplomats and the military can testify to the serious concerns of the Turks regarding the position of Ankara in the Syrian conflict in the long term. The change in the balance of power in Idlib, the last stronghold of the moderate opposition, is directly related to Turkey's participation in the formation of the future political system of Syria and its economic recovery.

Firstly, against the backdrop of the negotiations on Idlib, people began to talk about the less and less influential Turkey in the Syrian affairs. Everyone understands today that Turkey is compelled on many issues to compromise with the Russians due to the inadequacy of its own military strength and unwillingness to enter into a direct conflict with its Russian partners. If Turkey gives the green light to a limited military operation carried out even without the direct participation of the Turkish military, the image of the Turkish government in the eyes of the Syrians will be dealt another blow. After the actual surrender of Aleppo in 2016 and the liquidation of three of the four zones of de-escalation, the moderate opposition will cease to see Turkey as a reliable partner once the military operation in Idlib begins.


Turkey’s Kurdish issue clarifies political future of Erdogan

Secondly, the situation in Idlib is directly related to negotiations around the role of external players in the issue of Syria's reconstruction. Naturally, Russia is interested in attracting as many partners as possible. First of all, this concerns Turkey, which has a dynamic construction sector. However, participation in the distribution of contracts for the restoration of the Syrian infrastructure for Turkey today is difficult. Nevertheless, it is Ankara's control over the Syrian territories that allows the Turkish leadership to hope that trade and economic ties will pass through the border areas. Turkey is already investing in infrastructure development  in northern Aleppo. Stabilization of the situation in Idlib can open the way for Turkish investments in this province.

Finally, talks about Idlib's future may be related to Turkey's position regarding the ongoing negotiations between the Syrian Kurds and Damascus. Today, Turkey has to admit that it has lost all instruments of political and diplomatic influence on the Syrian Kurds, who are trying to build autonomy in the north of Syria. Military operations in Africa and neighboring border areas show that Turkey will be ready to go to military escalation against Kurdish militants linked to the Turkish terrorist organization Kurdistan Workers' Party. Obviously, Turkey can try to exchange its consent to a limited operation in Idlib to make concessions on the issue of confronting the Kurdish nationalists. One of the possible deals may be the transfer of the Kurdish territories around Tell-Rifaat to the control of pro-Turkish forces.

Originally published: https://iz.ru/783466/timur-akhmetov/po-kraiu-na-chto-rasschityvaet-turtciia-v-siriiskom-idlibe

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