ANKARA: The diplomatic involvement of NATO and Washington over the military escalation in Idlib has stirred debate about whether America is back on track in this war of attrition where the balance of power politics is key.
In her address to the UN Security Council on Feb. 6, US Ambassador to the UN Kelly Craft said that Turkey has the full backing of the US in responding to the Syrian regime’s “unjustified attacks” in Idlib.
A day after five Turkish soldiers were killed by regime shelling in Idlib, Special Representative for Syria Engagement Ambassador James Jeffrey also visited Ankara on Tuesday to meet senior Turkish officials and discuss the situation in Syria.
“We look forward to productive discussions with our NATO ally Turkey,” the US Embassy in Syria tweeted. For Timothy Ash, a London-based senior emerging markets strategist at Bluebay Asset Management, “the question is what is Putin trying to achieve by pushing Erdogan so aggressively in Idlib? He risks pushing Turkey back toward the US.”
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Samuel Ramani, a geopolitical analyst at Oxford University, finds it interesting that the US supported Turkey’s right to self-defense in Idlib, unlike during Ankara’s previous cross-border operations in northern Syria.
“That bolsters the Turkish bargaining position relative to Russia in a symbolic sense, even if the US isn’t fully trusted by policymakers in Ankara,” he told Arab News.
According to Ramani, the US views Russia’s tensions with Turkey over the state of the Syrian peace process and Idlib as an opportunity to reboot its relationship with Ankara on its terms.
“I also think that the US hand has been forced, as the US cannot be caught unresponsive to a military action that results in fatalities for a NATO member,” he said. “Turkey’s efforts to resist Assad’s march on Idlib play into the general escalated US policy of isolating Assad internationally, illustrated by the Caesar Act, which imposed sanctions on prospective international investors in Syria, and by US strikes prior to Qassem Soleimani’s death.”
The US recently increased its warning tone toward Russia over its policies in Syria, saying that Moscow was violating the de-escalation conditions and escalating the fighting in Idlib.
During Jeffrey’s meetings with Turkish officials, the US Embassy in Turkey shared messages on its official Twitter account, saying: “The destabilizing actions of Russia, the Iranian regime, Hizballah and the Assad regime are hindering the establishment of a nationwide cease-fire in Syria as called for an UNSCR 2254 and the safe return of hundreds of thousands of displaced persons in northern Syria to their homes.”
Civilians continue to flee Idlib as airstrikes by Russia-backed regime forces affect densely populated areas. NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg condemned on Tuesday regime attacks in Idlib and called Russia to stop them.
“We’re seeing not just the Russians, but Iranians and Hezbollah actively involved in supporting the Syrian offensive. We don’t know whether the offensive is just to get to the M4-M5 road, or it may continue further,” Jeffrey said, referring to the strategic highways.
Two rounds of talks between Turkish and Russian delegations in Ankara over the situation in Idlib failed to deliver a resolution.
Regime forces gained control of the main highway between Aleppo and Damascus on Tuesday for the first time in eight years, according to the UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
The latest maneuver of Washington is mostly seen as an attempt to re-engage with regional dynamics, where Turkey’s military deterrence by sending reinforcements to the observation posts in Idlib failed regarding the deadly strikes by regime troops on Turkish positions.
However, experts do not think that the unfolding crisis in Idlib would ruin the Ankara-Kremlin entente for now due to the links between the two countries, including energy and the acquisition of the S-400 air defense system.
Joe Macaron, a resident fellow at the Arab Center in Washington, thinks that the US support for the Turkish cause in Idlib is primarily political and diplomatic to drive a wedge between Ankara and Moscow by exploiting emerging tensions.
“However, Turkey will not likely risk its relationship with Russia by endorsing US intervention to help in Idlib nor the Trump admin is willing to do so,” he told Arab News.
The Russian military and regime troops filled the vacuum left by US troops who were ordered to withdraw by President Donald Trump at the end of 2019.