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Putin vs. Erdogan: Who's Going to Blink First?
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An explosive situation is developing in Idlib province where the Syrian army is conducting a major offensive that has triggered a harsh response from Turkey. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is threatening to attack Syrian forces anywhere in the country if the Syrian government does not stop all military operations in the so-called Idlib “de-escalation zone.” Aside from the fact that Turkey has no legal right to occupy Syrian territory, Erdogan’s threat pits Turkey against Russia in a showdown that could quickly escalate into a full-blown conflagration.

“I announce that we will strike the Syrian regime forces everywhere starting from today without being bound to Idlib or by the Sochi Memorandum, if our soldiers at the lookout posts or elsewhere suffer any harm,” said Erdogan addressing a meeting of his party’s members.

Legally, Turkey does not have a leg to stand on. According to the Sochi agreement that was signed by both Turkey and Russia in 2018, Turkey agreed that:

  1. All radical terrorist groups will be withdrawn from the demilitarized zone by October 15, 2018
  2. All tanks, artillery, MLRS and mortars of the conflicting parties will be withdrawn from the demilitarized zone by October 10, 2018.
  3. In the interests of ensuring free movement of local residents and goods, as well as restoring trade and economic ties, transit traffic along the routes M4 (Aleppo-Latakia) and M5 (Aleppo-Hama) will be restored before the end of 2018

Erdogan has not made good on any of these commitments.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergie Lavrov explained what’s actually going on in a recent press conference where he said:

“As you know… A truce agreement was signed with the reservation that the terrorist groups blacklisted by the UN Security Council would not and may not be covered by the truce..

all those identified by the UN Security Council as terrorist groups herded together into the remaining de-escalation zone of Idlib…. President of Russia Vladimir Putin and his Turkish counterpart Recep Tayyip Erdogan reached special agreements on this zone. This issue was reviewed twice – in September 2018 and October 2019. In both cases Russia and Turkey adopted specific documents that included their commitments to oversee Idlib, primarily in terms of civilian security and the distribution of humanitarian relief.

Regrettably, so far, Turkey has failed to fulfill a couple of its key commitments that were designed to resolve the core of the Idlib problem.” (“Lavrov explains the Idlib agreement”)

Simply put, Turkey has not kept up its end of the bargain and cleared the area of al Qaida elements who still operate openly in Idlib and who still receive support from the Turkish state. After multiple warnings and delays, Syria and its ally Russia decided that they’d have to put an end to Erdogan’s subterfuge and take action themselves which is clearly permitted under international law. Since the operation began some two weeks ago, the Syrian Army has liberated a number of strategic cities in the area as well as the primary transport corridor, the M-4 and M-5 highways.

In response, Turkey has “joined al-Qaeda-linked militants in their attack on positions of the Syrian Army (in) Idlib. During the past few days, Hayat Tahrir al-Sham and other radical groups recently received a large number of military equipment and weapons from Turkey. On February 10, they launched an attack on the Syrian Army using weapons and equipment that they had received.” (“Turkish Troops Join Al-Qaeda-linked Militants In Their Attack On Saraqib, South Front)

Hours after the jihadist attack, the Syrian Army retaliated and (allegedly) killed 8 or more Turkish soldiers located in the vicinity of a Turkish observation post on Syrian territory. The unexpected escalation brought a swift response from Ankara where the Turkish defense minister warned that, “If the Syrian forces are not withdrawn by the end of February, we will take action.”

Turkey’s determination to annex large parts of Syria’s northern territory has not wavered since 2015 when the government first announced its support for a plan to impose “safe zones” (35 km deep) along the 911 km Syrian-Turkish border. The plan succeeded east of the Euphrates River when Turkish troops invaded earlier in the year claiming that the Kurdish militia, YPG, posed a threat to Turkey’s national security. The attempt to seize more Syrian land west of the Euphrates, invoking the threat of “humanitarian disaster”, suggests that Turkey will use any bogus pretext to achieve its strategic objectives. Fortunately, Putin has not been hoodwinked by Erdogan’s shifting justifications for the seizure of Syrian territory. The Russian-Syrian forces continue to move deeper into the province routing or killing the remaining pockets of armed militants in their path.

According to Iran’s Press TV: “The Russian Foreign Ministry said in a recent statement that Idlib-based militants had staged “more than 1,000 attacks in the last two weeks of January” from a Turkish-controlled de-escalation zone in the flashpoint province. It stressed that most of the attacks had been conducted by the Hayat Tahrir al-Sham militant group.

Syria has been gripped by foreign-backed militancy since March 2011. The Syrian government says the Israeli regime and its Western and regional allies are aiding Takfiri terrorist groups had been wreaking havoc in the Arab country.” (“Turkey warns of ‘Plan B’ amid Syria’s anti-terror operation in Idlib”, Press TV)

Putin is looking for ways to diffuse the situation and strike a deal with Erdogan, but it’s not going to be easy. Putin has already taken a minimalist approach to Syrian conflict, that is, he is committed to liberating areas that are vital to the preservation of the state, but he’s not going to go out on a limb and undermine Russia’s interests by launching attacks on US bases in east Syria or starting a war with Erdogan in the west. By the same token, Putin cannot allow himself to be manipulated by a scheming opportunist like Erdogan who wants to shrug off his agreements because they no longer serve his regional ambitions. Putin would like to meet the Turkish president halfway and allow him to maintain troops in a safe zone further north, but he won’t cave in and give Erdogan everything he wants. Putin is reasonable, but he’s no pushover as Erdogan is likely to find out.

Here’s more background from a piece at the pro-government Daily Sabah:

“Idlib, as the opposition forces’ last stronghold, also has a symbolic meaning in peace talks in Geneva: Whoever controls Idlib will obviously have a big influence on the last word on the future of Syria. Idlib is of great importance for the Assad regime, as well, as it would strengthen his hand at the Geneva talks at a time when the regime is taking on the insane risk of confronting Turkish forces in open warfare on the ground for the first time since the beginning of the civil war. Obviously, this would be fatal for the Sochi agreement.

Strictly speaking, the outcome of the Syrian regime attacks in Idlib is a matter of life or death for the opposition’s role at the Geneva talks. The opposition will fight to the end to try to avoid weakening its position during its last chance at talks on Idlib.” (“Turkey and Russia must find a path to a new agreement”, Daily Sabah)

“A matter of life or death for the opposition”? “The opposition (jihadists) will fight to the end”?

The possibility is quite real especially in the present hyper-incendiary environment. Syrian president Bashar al Assad needs Idlib to reunite the country and to connect Latakia and Aleppo to Damascus. Putin needs Idlib to end his commitment in Syria and to provide a model for preserving threatened nation-states from destabilizing regime change operations. And Erdogan needs Idlib to extend Turkey’s power to territories it once controlled but lost following the post-WW1 imperialist carve up. Add to this toxic clash of interests the recent announcements by Washington and NATO that they support Erdogan’s efforts in Idlib, and the prospects for disaster increase exponentially. Here’s what neocon Mike Pompeo said yesterday on Twitter:

“My condolences to the families of the soldiers killed in yesterday’s attack in Idlib. The ongoing assaults by the Assad regime and Russia must stop. I’ve sent (special US envoy to Syria) Jim Jeffrey to Ankara to coordinate steps to respond to this destabilizing attack. We stand by our NATO Ally #Turkey.

Pompeo’s comments were followed by reports that US bombers had carried out air-strikes on Syrian troops in Al-Qamishli. Hours later, Israel launched a missile attack on Damascus. Clearly, the western powers are eager to take advantage of the emerging crisis and stir up as much trouble as possible.

As for Turkey, an outspoken columnist for the Daily Sabah was honest enough to articulate the government policy without making any attempt to conceal Ankara’s real motives. Here’s what he said:

“Turkey, however, is determined to stop the regime offensive… Although the primary objective is to secure Turkey’s observation posts, it is obvious that the current deployment serves a broader agenda. Going forward, Ankara needs to establish a safe zone with lasting borders. In other words, Turkey has to conduct a comprehensive operation to combat terrorism, among other things. The aim of the operation must be to ensure the safe zone’s sustainability.” (“Regime violence must be stopped now”, Daily Sabah)

As the author makes clear, Turkey’s real objective is to annex Syrian territory in the north and expand its own borders to the south, a clear case of territorial aggression. We don’t think Putin is going to put up with this.

 
• Category: Foreign Policy • Tags: Erdogan, Russia, Syria, Turkey, Vladimir Putin 
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  1. Look over Putin’s numerous videos and you will see some hard dangerous looks. Dmitri Peskov has stated that while he won’t say if Putin curses he does have a “chilling” tone to use.

    • Replies: @Realist
  2. God bless President Putin. Stand up to Turkey.

    • Agree: Digital Samizdat
  3. A NATO power supporting and providing arms to Al Qaeda (Hayat Tahrir al-Sham). Only Turkey.

    • Replies: @Medvedev
    , @anonymous
  4. Medvedev says:
    @Agathoklis

    Erdogain is dreaming about creation Neo-Ottoman Turkish Empire and extending national borders
    The area of Turkish occupation is 7 times bigger then Golan Heights controlled by Israel.

    • Replies: @BDS Always
  5. anonymous[245] • Disclaimer says:
    @Agathoklis

    Only Turkey? That’s not what the article says.

    “‘I’ve sent (special US envoy to Syria) Jim Jeffrey to Ankara to coordinate steps to respond to this destabilizing attack. We stand by our NATO Ally #Turkey.’

    Pompeo’s comments were followed by reports that US bombers had carried out air-strikes on Syrian troops in Al-Qamishli. Hours later, Israel launched a missile attack on Damascus.”

  6. @Medvedev

    More than likely he is not going to allow the Greater Israel project land steal to take place.
    Why does no one talk about that?

  7. “Putin is…not going to go out on a limb and undermine Russia’s interests by launching attacks on US bases in east Syria or starting a war with Erdogan in the west. By the same token, Putin cannot allow himself to be manipulated by a scheming opportunist…”
    And this is the kind of dilemma that leads to world war, repeating the pattern of history.
    https://www.ghostsofhistory.wordpress.com/

  8. Realist says:
    @LennyDDishwasher

    Look over Putin’s numerous videos and you will see some hard dangerous looks. Dmitri Peskov has stated that while he won’t say if Putin curses he does have a “chilling” tone to use.

    Unfortunately Putin will probably cave.

    • Replies: @Delta G
  9. Delta G says:
    @Realist

    Why would he do that? When has he done that in the Middle East? Yu r mor lik a dreamer….

    • Replies: @Realist
  10. Doesn’t the NATO Charter say that an attack upon one is an attack upon all? Is Turkey counting upon that, even though they are the aggressor fighting outside of their own territory, and have been thumbing their nose at NATO for some time? Is it even possible for Trump, still surrounded by neocons, to postpone NATO involvement until after the election?

    Pompeo and the Neocons are again chomping at the bit to get a war started, which will surely morph into an attack on Iran. Is WWIII inevitable?

  11. Delta G says:

    Looking at a Map it seems to me the Turkey is in the Center of a Russian Cauldron.

    Erdogan may be insane but Putin is not.

    How many minutes do you think it would take for Russian Forces to flatten Incirlik AB with conventional warheads?

    Would Mike Pompous flash his 1/2 inch Wang in protest.

    The Russians are patient and some internal changes in Turkey may take care of this problems for Turkey.

    Just like Iran, Iraq and most of the Middle East, the West has lost these people except for the Saudi Perverts /Criminals and the Israeli Perverts/Criminals.

    I do not believe Erdogan has any chance against any Russian demand.

    Unless you want to go Nuclear, Turkey is lost to NATO.

    Erdogan is just helping it happen faster.

  12. Delta G says:
    @follyofwar

    So if Russian Annexes Turkey, what will the West do? If I were Putin and I had to take over another Country to protect Russia, it would be Turkey. He has way way way to much to gain and likely nothing to lose.

    • Replies: @Curmudgeon
    , @follyofwar
  13. @follyofwar

    Yes the Charter says that, but apparently it gets applied selectively.
    When the IRA was busy blowing up Northern Ireland and other parts of the UK, while being shielded by Dublin, which refused to co-operate fully, the UK was unable to claim NATO assistance.
    Meanwhile post 9/11, an Afghan government saying show us proof bin Laden did 9/11 and we’ll extradite him, was invaded and continues to be occupied by NATO, even though Afghanistan had nothing to do with the alleged bin Laden attack.

  14. @Delta G

    So if Russian Annexes Turkey, what will the West do?

    That would be a mistake. Declaring a Holy War to retake Constantinople and restore the Byzantine Empire and its citizens to their rightful ancient homeland would be a better way to go.

  15. Denis says:
    @follyofwar

    Doesn’t the NATO Charter say that an attack upon one is an attack upon all? Is Turkey counting upon that, even though they are the aggressor fighting outside of their own territory, and have been thumbing their nose at NATO for some time? Is it even possible for Trump, still surrounded by neocons, to postpone NATO involvement until after the election?

    Yes they are counting on that, they have been counting on that for some time. The Turks have been happily using the other NATO members as shields to protect them against retaliation for their aggression.

    Case in point, the Syrians have surrounded numerous Turkish bases and could have destroyed those troops easily, and this would have been the smart thing to do militarily, but they have held back. This isn’t due to fear of the Turks themselves, Erdogan already threatened them with outright war if they moved back into Idlib. But if they kill Turkish soldiers, Erdogan may well declare that Turkish troops defending civilians (meaning Al-Qaida) are under attack by a Russian/Syrian alliance and invoke the NATO charter against them.

    Given the political climate in the US, my guess is that Russia worries that the neocons in power there would gladly leap at the opportunity to strike Russia.

  16. Anon[984] • Disclaimer says:

    Erdogan is a small town thief . Putin should find a county jail for him.

    He is Muslim leaders crying for Rohingya for Kashmir for Palestinian . He is a piece of canine excrements

  17. Realist says:
    @Delta G

    When has he done that in the Middle East?

    When he did not respond to his troops be killed and one of his planes shot down.

    • Replies: @Realist
    , @Thirdeye
  18. Realist says:
    @Realist

    Should read… being killed.

  19. A123 says:
    @follyofwar

    Doesn’t the NATO Charter say that an attack upon one is an attack upon all? Is Turkey counting upon that, even though they are the aggressor fighting outside of their own territory, and have been thumbing their nose at NATO for some time?

    No nation has subordinated their sovereignty and military to NATO, so the concept NATO obligation is a dubious phrase. If you can get past that, NATO is officially a defense only arrangement. There is no NATO obligation to assist members in offensive operations.

    Pompeo and the Neocons are again chomping at the bit to get a war started, which will surely morph into an attack on Iran. Is WWIII inevitable?

    The Dems cannot earn a win, but Trump could still lose. After disengaging from this mess by pulling troops south, going north again would result in a spectacular Trump loss.

    Trump has not been able to run Good Cop, Bad Cop on the Fake Stream Media [FSM] since Bolton quit. Presumably, this is Pompeo assuming the role of Bad Cop 2.0 . He gets to say provocative things and the FSM is forced to give Trump positive coverage via stories headlined, “Trump Restrains Pompeo”.

    There will be no U.S. boots on the ground in Iran as long as Trump remains in office.

    If Bernie or any other NeoConDemocrat wins — Inauguration Day will be Invasion Day.

    PEACE 😇

    • Replies: @sarz
  20. @Delta G

    Putin is far too cautious to ever consider taking on a large country like Turkey, which has the biggest NATO army outside of the US. Hell, he just sold them Russia’s S-400’s. The country Putin could have taken over was Ukraine, which, after that illegal coup in 2014, would have been a cakewalk. As that civil war has been festering now for 6 years, ever since the Sochi Olympics, I wonder if Putin has ever regreted his inaction.

  21. Thirdeye says:
    @Realist

    He did, with sanctions that weakened Turkey’s economy. This is chess, not checkers.

    • LOL: Realist
  22. melpol says:

    Peace for Syria can only come when the government of Damascus is dissolved. Without a central government Syria will become partitioned into free trade zones.. Israel can become a leading trade partner of a free trade zoned Syria. Peace will come when Israeli and Syrian merchandise is marketed throughout the region. Militant Iranian troops must be outlawed in the new Syria.

    • Replies: @Colin Wright
  23. @melpol

    ‘Peace for Syria can only come when the government of Damascus is dissolved. Without a central government Syria will become partitioned into free trade zones.. Israel can become a leading trade partner of a free trade zoned Syria. Peace will come when Israeli and Syrian merchandise is marketed throughout the region. Militant Iranian troops must be outlawed in the new Syria.’

    Spoken like a true Zionist.

  24. sarz says:
    @A123

    There will be no U.S. boots on the ground in Iran as long as Trump remains in office.

    Right. That’s Commander Bonespurs. But usable nukes, that’s as thinkable as taking out the big Eyeranyun.

  25. lauris71 says:
    @follyofwar

    The famous article 5 of NATO treaty does not say what most people seem to think.
    Basically – NATO allies have to refer aggression against a member state to UN security council. Until UNSC takes action to stop it, they should take some action, possibly military one, themselves to repel the aggression. But the military action is not an obligation, NATO charter does not require anything stronger than “deep concern”.
    After WWI the world got allergic to “automatic defense” clauses in treaties.

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