Escalation in Syria’s Idlib strains Russian-Turkish ties

A young shepherd tends to his sheep as members of a family fleeing with their belongings pass through the town of Batabo in Syria’s Aleppo province, on Wednesday amid an ongoing regime offensive. (AFP)
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Updated 06 February 2020

Escalation in Syria’s Idlib strains Russian-Turkish ties

  • Bloodshed in Syria a harsh reminder of Russia’s increasing frustration with Ankara’s precarious moves

ANKARA: Ankara and Moscow are passing through a stormy period in their regional alliance and Monday’s escalation in Syria’s rebel-held Idlib province offered a new challenge for their entente: Will they burn bridges or find a common ground to continue their marriage of convenience, at least for a certain time?

The same day when a Russian-backed regime offensive in Idlib killed eight Turkish military officers during the reinforcement of their observation post, Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan paid a visit to Ukraine to sign a deal assisting the Ukrainian army with funding.
With a carefully designed and sharpened rhetoric, he raised an anti-Russian nationalist slogan there, “Glory to Ukraine,” referring to the country’s independence fight following the collapse of the Soviet Union, and denounced the Russian annexation of Crimea.
Although the latest bloodshed in Syria was a harsh reminder of Russia’s increasing frustration with Ankara’s precarious moves, the two countries are likely to survive the crisis because they still have unfulfilled regional targets that require each other’s support, experts say.
According to the Sochi agreement, signed by Russia, Turkey and Iran in September 2018, Ankara was supposed to eradicate the Hayat Tahrir Al-Sham (HTS). Instead, HTS made inroads into strategic areas near Syria’s main highways, M4 and M5, which connect major cities of Syria to Turkey.
“The Russians gave Turkey about one and half year to handle the HTS issue. It wasn’t handled. They gave Turkey about one-and-a-half years to deal with road access. It wasn’t handled. This offensive will reclaim the strategically important M5 and M4 highways for the regime. At that point, Turkey may consolidate and deploy forces closer to the border to absorb refugees. That’s up to Ankara,” Aaron Stein, director of the Middle East program at the US-based Foreign Policy Research Institute, told Arab News, he said.
In the Syrian war, Ankara supports rebel forces against Bashar Assad’s forces which are backed by Moscow.
The two countries also faced a serious crisis five years ago when Turkish military shot down a Russian fighter jet across the border with Syria. That crisis endured for about seven months with a battle of words and deeds between the two countries, impacting trade, tourism and diplomatic ties, even with Russian news site Sputnik’s Turkish section taking a critical editorial line against Erdogan’s policies.

FASTFACT

With a carefully designed and sharpened rhetoric, Erdogan raised an anti-Russian nationalist slogan there, ‘Glory to Ukraine,’ referring to Ukraine’s independence fight following the collapse of the Soviet Union, and denounced the Russian annexation of Crimea.

Stein thinks Erdogan will still try and keep Putin on side also “because Ankara owes Moscow a lot of money for the acquisition of a $2 billion Russian S400 air defense system, so the two sides still have lots to talk about.”
With the newly launched TurkStream pipeline, Russia also supplies Turkey with a considerable amount of natural gas by bypassing Ukraine.
Emre Ersen, a Syrian analyst at Marmara University in Istanbul, thinks the reactions in the Russian media are also closely related with the implications of the official visit of President Erdogan to Ukraine and the fact that Turkey’s military-strategic relations with Ukraine have been improving remarkably in the last few years.
“Regarding Idlib, it is clear that the Sochi agreement initiated by Ankara and Moscow in September 2018 is not really working anymore. Whether a new deal is going to be reached on this issue is yet unknown as it seems Russia and the Assad regime are determined to resolve the crisis in Idlib with brute military force in the short term,” he told Arab News.
However for Ersen, Ankara and Moscow still need each other’s support in order to maintain their military influence in Syria.
“Turkey, for instance, needs Russian assistance to protect its strategic gains in the east of Euphrates River. Russia, on the other hand, would probably not want to greatly alienate Turkey which might trigger a new rapprochement between Ankara and Washington as also indicated by what US Secretary of State Pompeo said about the latest incident,” he noted.
On Wednesday, Erdogan criticized Russia for failing to implement peace agreements and called for Moscow to “better understand Turkey’s sensitivities in Syria.” Erdogan also repeated that Russia is not Turkey’s interlocutor in Russia. “It’s entirely the regime and you should not block us,” he said.

 


UAE announces 626 new COVID-19 cases, a drop from previous day

Updated 9 min 4 sec ago

UAE announces 626 new COVID-19 cases, a drop from previous day

  • Dubai Economy issued 18 fines, 12 warning to businesses
  • Kuwait records 437 cases and 4 deaths, Oman reports 607 cases and 12 deaths

DUBAI: The UAE on Monday recorded 626 new COVID-19 cases, a drop from 851 the previous day, and one death.
The Ministry of Health and Prevention said the total number of infected cases since the pandemic began has reached 92,095, while the total deaths reached 413.
Some 918 cases recovered from COVID-19 over the previous 24 hours, bringing the total to 81,462 cases.
Meanwhile, Dubai Economy said it issued fines to 18 commercial establishments and gave warnings to 12 shops for not adhering to anti-COVID-19 measures, while 725 businesses were found to be compliant.
These included shops selling perfumes and electronics in various shopping centers around Dubai, as well as two gyms that were fined in cooperation with Dubai Sports Council.
Inspection teams have been carrying out daily tours to ensure that shopping centers, open markets and commercial businesses are complying with the government’s preventative measures.
Dubai Municipality also closed two salons for failing to comply with the precautionary measures, fined 58 institutions, and issued 70 warnings during inspection visits.
Elsewhere, Kuwait reported 437 new COVID-19 cases, bringing the total to 103,981, while the death toll reached 605 after four new deaths were registered.
Oman recorded 607 new COVID-19 cases and 12 deaths, bringing total numbers to 98,057 and 924 respectively.