The Liberation of Idlib: Turkey is in the way, with Russia slowing down

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By Elijah J. Magnier: @ejmalrai

Turkey is pushing further reinforcements of troops, commando units and tanks into the northern Syrian city of Idlib and around it, for a specific objective: to disrupt the attack against the city by the Syrian forces and their allies supported by Russia. Ankara is indeed taking advantage of the Russian slowing down of its strategy to liberate the city from jihadists (including al-Qaeda) due to the US threat to bomb the Syrian Army and government forces under that excuse of “using chemical weapons”. This “chemical weapon” has become part of the battle of Idlib, used as a tool to wage war on Syria just as the war is coming to an end.

Russia considers the Turkish reinforcements as a breach of the Astana Turkish-Russian-Iranian deal, which limited the number of observation points and the military presence around the city and rural areas of Idlib. Moreover, Russia effectively considers Turkey to be unable to fulfil its commitment to totally end the presence of jihadists, especially including the group of al-Qaeda, stationed in the city and around it. In fact, the Turkish president Erdogan has asked for an extended delay to meet the Russian and the Iranian demands related to Idlib. This delay has been rejected by the government of Damascus whose leaders believe it is counterproductive to the interests of the country (to liberate the whole of Syria) and, further, would confirm the Russian president’s hesitancy which is apparently due to the US threat.

Decision makers in Damascus said “Turkey has offered Russia the protection of its military base in Hmaymeem by preventing any further drone attack against it. The Russian base has been subject to over 55 armed drone attacks, all shot down by the Russian defence system around the base which is on the Syrian coast. Actually, Russia itself is prepared to attack rural Latakia in order to create a safety zone for its base and remove the presence of the jihadists who have claimed responsibility for most of the attacks. Russia has rejected the Turkish offer, asking Ankara to abide by its agreement and eliminate the Jihadists from the city using Turkish influence to avoid the attack. Damascus believes Turkey would like to annexe Idlib and is, therefore, rejecting any deal with Turkey beyond the one already signed in Astana which consisted of a commitment to “finish off” all jihadists”.

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Furthermore, according to the sources, Turkey “promised to include Jabhat al-Nusra, aka Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham, within one single army in Idlib to satisfy the Russian demands and show its control over the jihadists. Ankara’s troops are bringing in more military personnel – as Turkey presents it – to support all Turkish proxies in their battle against jihadists who refuse to surrender or merge with the other groups. According to recent information provided by Turkish intelligence to Russia and Iran, the Turkish army is prepared to attack any group refusing to submit to Turkey. Moreover, it seems that hundreds of jihadists have left Syria for another destination. Ankara is facilitating the exit- or else- of all jihadists: otherwise, these will have to fight and die in Idlib”.

Turkey is asking for more time, to delay the attack against Idlib for few more weeks. In the meantime, Syria’s allies are determined to control the rural area around Idlib, including rural Hama and Latakia. For this purpose, and for fear of a possible attack on Aleppo by jihadists as a way to divert the Syrian forces attack, the allies are sending large numbers of troops digging in for defensive purposes around Aleppo.

Syria’s allies and Damascus itself consider Russia to have slowed down the pace of its attack, thus allowing Turkey to raise concerns worldwide about the necessity of the attack on Idlib. Turkey encouraged the US to take its time to prepare its bank of objectives (targets) in Syria in the case it decides to bomb Syria. Also, it has pressed the international community, mainly the Europeans, to intervene to prevent a possible “flood of refugees and jihadists towards the continent of Europe in the case of an attack on Idlib”. Today, the two superpowers (Russia and the US) have conducted military manoeuvres in the Mediterranean facing the Syrian coast and in Syria (Tanf). So they are indeed “walking on the edge of an abyss” while flexing their muscles to each other.

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According to my sources, Turkey “is asking for more time to solve the situation in Idlib without a fight. Also, it is proposing to solve the issue of tens of thousands of its armed Syrian proxy militants when the political reconciliation has matured. All these indicate strongly that Turkey is not willing to leave Syria”.

Moscow has substantial strategic interests engaged with Ankara (commercial exchange, armaments, plus facilitating and selling energy) as well as with Tehran (commerce and energy exchange- one consequence of the Turkish rejection of the US unilateral sanctions on Iran). President Erdogan is playing on this strategic relationship to stop the battle of Idlib. Nevertheless, both Russia and Iran themselves sustain a more profound strategic relationship with Syria, where the desire to put an end to the war and see all of Syria liberated is much stronger.

“There is no plan to attack the city of Idlib for now”, say the sources. The liberation of rural Hama, Latakia and Idlib are the main objectives. The almost two million Syrian civilians are not expected to exit to Turkey or Europe. They are invited to leave all areas which are under the control of the jihadists (mainly al-Qaeda and its partners or its armed supporters) and move into the city of Idlib under Turkish control.

What is clear so far is the certainty that President Assad is not ready to give up Idlib to President Erdogan. Assad is said to be ready to start the attack in a few weeks even alone, at the cost of dragging everybody behind him onto the battlefield.

Proofreading by:  Maurice Brasher

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11 thoughts on “The Liberation of Idlib: Turkey is in the way, with Russia slowing down

  1. Russia cannot retreat from Syria – they know what that will encourage. Iran cannot allow the US to sit in eastern Syria – they will assist Assad in ejecting the US. Syria cannot allow the continual danger of western backed vermin in Idlib. This adds up to more war. I hope the US is happy with the immense suffering and chaos that have promoted in the region. How US operatives can live with what they have done is beyond me to understand.

  2. Russia will make an irreversible error if it backs down on the Idlib battle, for then NATO will smell blood with invasion and cannibalization sure to follow. Anyway, it’s lean President Putin against a senile and chubby Secretary of Defense Mithais.

  3. This is proof that Russia is very limited as a military power. Lesson learned. Foreign military adventurism cost big money. Time to go home and write it off as a bad experiment.

    1. Oh sure. “Lesson learned. Foreign military adventurism cost big money”… – That is why Russia, simultaneously with the operation in Syria, can afford military exercises in the Mediterranean, as well as enormous large-scale military exercises “East-2018” (“Vostok-2018”), which require huge financial costs.

      You are very hasty in your conclusions.

  4. FACTS
    For five days the Russian and Syrian media have been silent on Idlib.
    Russia has done nothing inside Syria except reduce the terrorists that endanger Russia.
    Russia has done nothing to remove USA, Turkey or Kurd militants from Syria.
    Russia allows Israel, USA, UK and France to bomb Syria.
    Russian land squatting settlers are forcing the Palestine natives off their land.
    Russia acts like it wants European Caucasians to populate the Middle-East.

    1. “Russia has done nothing inside Syria except reduce the terrorists that endanger Russia.”

      Where did you get this? Unbelievable nonsense. This is what is called fake news. “Russia has done nothing inside Syria”? Oh, sure. Russia has not demined thousands of hectares of Syrian territory, so that residents are not harmed by accidental explosions. Russia did not provide (often with risk to their lives) free medical care to tens of thousands of Syrians. Russia did not take diseased Syrian children to Russia for treatment. Russia did not deliver thousands of tons of humanitarian aid to the Syrians. Russia did not create a Center for the Reconciliation, which reconciled more than 2,500 settlements in Syria. Russian experts do not teach the Syrian military. Russia did not create humanitarian corridors for the safe exit of civilians. Russian military police does not ensure the safety of the liberated Syrian towns. Russia did not build (twice) a pontoon bridge across the Euphrates. Russia does not block anti-Syrian initiatives in the UN…

      The list can go on and on… So, Russia does not do all this? (facepalm)

      “Russia has done nothing to remove USA, Turkey or Kurd militants from Syria.”

      What on earth makes you think that this is Russia’s obligation – “to remove USA, Turkey or Kurd militants from Syria”? Where did you get this nonsense?

      It seems that you absolutely don’t understand the situation. The task/right of Russia in Syria is only (I repeat, only) to help to the Syrian government in the fight against terrorists (I repeat, against terrorists, but not against the US, Turkey, Israel, Kurds or anyone else). Russia was invited only to help in the fight against terrorists. Russia has no tasks, plans and the rights to do something against the US, Israel, Turkey and other parties hostile to Syria. Russia will take some action against these parties only if they try to harm Russian (not Syrian) forces in Syria.

      “Russia allows Israel, USA, UK and France to bomb Syria.”

      I repeat, it’s not Russia’s business/obligation to not “allow Israel, USA, UK and France to bomb Syria”. This is Syria’s own right/obligation to protect their sovereign territory.
      One more time – Russia’s obligation is only to help to fight terrorists.

      “Russian land squatting settlers are forcing the Palestine natives off their land.”

      No comments. 100% bullsh$t.

      1. Agree: Russia objectives in Syria are to destroy terrorists and prevent a regime change in Syria but not to start a 3d world war. Russia has friends in the ME that are not necessarily friends of Syria, which is normal…

        1. “Russia has friends in the ME..”

          Yes, but… I would have corrected this a little. In world politics, it’s rather more ‘temporary partners’ than friends. Some partners are more reliable (so you can build a long-term relationship with them), some less reliable (who are ready to break their word and betray you at the earliest opportunity). I would say that in ME, Russia has more foes than friends. After all, most countries in the ME region are unhappy with Russia’s intervention in the Syrian conflict and Russia’s support for Assad. Israel, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Jordan, OAE…

          Iran? Difficult to say. At this particular moment, Russia and Iran are some kind of allies, yes. But not everyone in Iran are sympathetic to Russia (rather, vice versa). In Iran, Russia is still being blamed for the ruptured deal on deliveries of S-300 complexes in 2010. Must admit that in many respects, these accusations are justified. It is worth recalling that many in Iraq were against granting Russia airfields for raiding Syria. Iran has a very big influence on Assad and his policies. Sometimes this can be a problem for Russia, because Iran and Russia pursue different goals in Syria. On the whole, Russia has complicated, ambiguous relations with this country.

          Iraq? It seems that at the moment this country does not show a hostile policy towards Russia. But Russia’s big mistake is weak work with Iraq – Russia does not involve Iraq in the formats of negotiations on Syria, does not conduct active work in Iraq itself (diplomatic, military, social, cultural work etc.). Lack of proper attention to this country is not Russia’s best decision.

          In your interesting article I would not agree with one thing – that delay to liberate Idlib is “the Russian president’s hesitancy which is apparently due to the US threat”. I don’t like the delay too, but I don’t think this is caused by US threats. After all, there was first illegal missile attack on Syria (April 2017), these was second illegal missile attack (April 2018)… – in both cases, US threats did not affect Russia’s intentions and actions. Why should it be different now? Of course, Russia takes into account the threats of the US, but this definitely will not change the policies of Russia. I think the delays are caused by the peculiarities of the relations between Russia and Turkey. Turkey has influence on the terrorist groups in Idlib. If Russia simply destroys them, it can have a negative impact on the construction of the Turkish pipeline (up to the construction stop). The very participation of Turkey in the so far quite successful negotiation format “Russia – Turkey – Iran” is also a “wobbly” moment. Plus, the contract for the supply of S-400 ADS may also be at risk. Therefore, Russia needs to look for some options and go for certain compromises with Turkey.

          On September 17, Erdogan and Putin meet in Sochi again.
          We’ll see…

        2. All terrorists are of my slow of thought and impoverished laboring-class. Surely, bombing them into body parts is not going to get at the root cause. For your more intelligent upper-half of society hoarding all the land and wealth, that is the root cause.

      2. Terrorists are all laboring-class, the working poor and if they had received a living wage, they would never have been fooled into thinking that deadly force can overcome evil. And though Saudi Arabia, UAE and Qatar are the funders of Wahhabi terrorism, they are not the creators and orchestrators, as that ignoble honor goes to Empire USA, Israel, UK, France and Turkey.

        Russia is identical to all western nations in the respect that they allow the more intelligent upper-half of society to hoard all the land, wealth and political power, the root cause of all terrorism under the sun. Therefore, we need to organize and pressure Russia to do the following:
        1. Supply Syria with all the S-400 missile systems needed to turn Syria into a no-fly zone for enemy aircraft.
        2. Target for destruction any fighter-jet or warship that fires a missile at the forces defending Syria.
        3. As the largest group of those stealing land at gun point in Palestine are Russian land squatters, Russia must declare them terrorists and demand that they be extradited for trial.
        4. Arrest as terrorists anyone in Syria with a gun supplied by a foreign power.
        5. Supply Yemen with S-400 missile systems sufficient to establish a no-fly zone.

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