ANKARA: A flurry of diplomatic meetings are underway this week as violence continues in Syria’s rebel-held northwestern province of Idlib.
A high-level US delegation visited Ankara on Monday and there is an expected meeting between Turkish and Russian leaders in Moscow on Thursday.
The US delegation — with Kelly Craft, the envoy to the UN, and James Jeffrey, the special representative for Syria — will visit Turkey on Monday night to hold talks on the mounting tensions in Idlib.
After having lost at least 36 Turkish soldiers to Assad regime airstrikes in Idlib, Turkey launched Operation Spring Shield on Sunday against Russian-backed Syrian forces, downing two regime planes and carrying out drone strikes that killed 19 Syrian soldiers.
Although Ankara currently avoids any direct confrontation with Moscow, they are still on the opposing sides of the conflict. Russia looks determined to back the Syrian regime to regain full control over Idlib.
Experts underline that much depends on the outcome of the US visit to Turkey and the ongoing discussions between Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan with his US counterpart Donald Trump.
Samuel Ramani, a Middle East analyst at the University of Oxford, said that Turkey’s meeting with the US is meant to send a message to Moscow that Washington is behind its actions in Syria.
“Turkey is hoping that it can secure something more than just rhetorical solidarity from the US and possibly could be interested in seeing if the US will offer Patriot deployments or intelligence support in Idlib,” he told Arab News.
If the US offers either of these options, Ramani said, Turkey will be able to react to Russia from a position of strength.
“And in that case, Moscow will be much more likely to accept Turkey’s outreach knowing that the Russian S-400 air defense system could be at risk and Turkey could be pivoting back into the US and NATO fold,” he added.
Washington and Ankara are still considering Turkey’s recent request for a temporary deployment of two American Patriot anti-aircraft missile systems along its southern border with Syria, Trump said on Saturday.
But with Ankara’s Ankara’s insistence to activate the S-400s in the spring, the deployment of the American systems is not guaranteed.
Turkey also called on the US to conduct aerial patrols near Idlib, and on its NATO allies to give air defense and intelligence support for its military maneuvres.
The US paused sharing reconnaissance with Turkey on Kurdistan Workers’ Party targets in Iraq after the Turkish incursion into Syria in last October.
Experts note that if nothing substantial comes of the US-Turkish meeting, it could embolden the Russian position in the upcoming Erdogan-Putin summit in Moscow.
Turkey’s meeting with the US is meant to send a message to Moscow that Washington is behind its actions in Syria.
Samuel Ramani, Analyst at the University of Oxford
“Under that scenario, Russia will wait until Turkey is firmly committed to de-escalation before offering any compromises, and could even try to distract Ankara in the meantime with a parallel escalation in Libya,” Ramani said.
Meanwhile, the Kremlin is playing hardball with Ankara, warning the latter that it cannot guarantee the safety of Turkish aircraft over Idlib.
“Deploying the Patriots at the Turkish-Syrian border will definitely strengthen Turkey’s position in its bargain with Russia. Yet it may be not enough to change Russia’s calculus in Syria, especially its approach to the Assad regime, because Russia’s global credibility is at stake here,” said Karol Wasilewski, a Turkey analyst at the Warsaw-based Polish Institute of International Affairs.
“Thus, I think the farthest Russia may go when it comes to its bargain with Ankara is some territorial correction to its long voice argument about the Adana Agreement. And while Ankara seems interested in de-escalation, I doubt Turkish decision-makers will accept the offer,” he told Arab News.
Regarding the summit in Moscow, Erdogan hopes to achieve a cease-fire in Idlib. However, the previous cease-fires that were brokered by Turkey and Russia have been fragile and were regularly violated.
Wasilewski thinks that Ankara is clear when it comes to its objectives in Syria — they still want a political process to end the war.
“I think that as long as the main parameters of such a process will include Turkey’s security interests — for example, Assad not as a permanent ruler of the country — they will be open to compromise,” he added.