Syria imposes the Astana deal by force, as Turkish-Russian tensions rise

Aleppo, Elijah J. Magnier: @ejmalrai

Since 2012 the M5 Damascus-Aleppo had been under the control of jihadist forces. The Syrian Army has now liberated the M5 Damascus-Aleppo road and over 140 cities, villages and strategic hills. Turkey and the Uzbeks, Uighurs and Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (formerly al-Nusra) failed to protect their fortified positions, abandoning them and retreating towards the area surrounding Idlib.

This is the first time the Turkish Army has been shelled by the Syrian Army. Five Turkish officers were killed at Taftanaz military airport, the base used by Turkey and its jihadists gather. Ankara was forced to send its own army onto the battlefield to compensate for the weakness of its jihadist allies on the ground.

The liberation of the 432 km of the M5 from jihadists was stipulated in the Astana agreement signed in October 2018, a stipulation which Turkey failed to honour since then. The Syrian government carried out three major advances towards the M5 since then, but this time the decision to recover it was final. This is a Syrian-Russian message to President Erdogan that time is running out for Idlib. The Turkish-Russian bras-de-fer is also reaching beyond the Syrian borders. It is also evident in Ukraine and Libya, where Turkey is seeking a major role.

The Russians are providing the Syrian Army with advanced warfare equipment and dozens of T-90s, which help the Army to continue its military offensives at night. This, along with the hundreds of Russian Air Force strikes, helped to liberate the entire area on the east side of the road and many other areas on the west side where the military operation continues. Moreover, Russia offered unparalleled military intelligence and planning support to the Syrian Army in this successful operation, as well as bombing the jihadists’ lines, and behind their retreat position as well.

What was surprising was the discovery of kilometres of underground tunnels with field hospitals, ammunition and life support goods that could have sustained a very long siege in all liberated areas on both sides of the M5 and in main cities like Saraqeb and El-Eiss. These tunnels were linked together, linking villages under the ground and some even 20 metres deep, enough to protect from air bombardment. The Jihadists were in a rush–they evacuated all these positions leaving everything behind.

Syrian Army tactics, in recent years, involve leaving a road open for jihadists to retreat before closing in. After the liberation of Aleppo, the Syrian Army avoided surrounding cities due to the propaganda benefit jihadists derive from mainstream media and foreign interventionists who do not wish to see Syria recovering and united. This is why roads were always left open for jihadists to retreat by before any final assault.

Turkey is unable to protect its jihadist allies and cannot offer them air support. Russia is in control of Syrian air space and Damascus warned Turkey it would down any of Turkish jets that violate Syrian airspace.

It is a new strategic turn in the Syrian war that Maarrat al-Nu’man, Khan Touman, Saraqeb, Tel el-Eiss, Rashedeen 4&5 are now liberated. It is an indication that Turkey will find it hard to protect its jihadists in the long run. The stability of Syria requires the liberation of its entire territory. Syrian stability is in the interest of Russia and its national security objectives. Russia walked into the Levant to stop the war. Its credibility is on the line. It has a large naval base offering unique access to the Mediterranean. It is also in the interests of Russia to eliminate al-Qaeda and all groups adhering to their takfiri ideology, notwithstanding their different priorities and names. The Uzbeks and Uighur jihadists in the Levant have no place to go and are expected to fight to the last man.

Turkey is showing its teeth to Russia by refusing to recognise Russian sovereignty of Crimea and offering 33$ billion to Ukraine in arms. Turkey is aiming for a more effective and recognised role in Libya where the central government is officially requesting Ankara’s support. However, the situation in Syria is different. Turkey knows its presence in Syria cannot last for long, and that the liberation of Idlib, even if it is not on the agenda today, will happen soon. It is only a question of time.

The US occupation forces have cornered themselves in a limited area in north-east Syria where they can steal Syrian oil, as President Donald Trump announced. This limited US presence is not a priority for the Syrian army. Idlib will be liberated first, and then Afrin. This is why Turkey is trying to reinforce and stabilise its influence in Syria. Four meetings took place between the Syrian intelligence officials and their Turkish counterparts at the highest level to discuss new agreements. Turkey wants to modify its 1998 Adana agreement with Syria, governing Turkish military pursuit of the PKK into Syrian territory. 

Russia and Iran are playing an important role in easing Turkish-Syrian tensions, but the bottom line is full Turkish withdrawal from Syria.

Turkey has bought the S-400 from Russia and the Turkstream pipeline was officially launched last month to reduce Russian shipments via Ukraine. On the other hand, Turkey is also a NATO ally with a powerful US military base on its borders. Turkey will find it hard to strike a balance between the two superpowers and at the same time protect its jihadists in Syria. The time for Turkey to weigh up its options is near.

Proofread by: Maurice Brasher and C.G.B.

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7 thoughts on “Syria imposes the Astana deal by force, as Turkish-Russian tensions rise

  1. Appreciate your insights into the Syria conundrum.

    “…When you surround an army, leave an outlet free.
    [This does not mean that the enemy is to be allowed to escape. The object, as Tu Mu puts it, is “to make him believe that there is a road to safety, and thus prevent his fighting with the courage of despair.” Tu Mu adds pleasantly: “After that, you may crush him.”]
    Do not press a desperate foe too hard.”

    Sun Tzu, The Art of War
    Chapter 7:36, “Maneuvering”

    Glad to know the 25th Special Mission Forces Division, formerly known as “Tiger Forces,” are now following in Sun Tzu’s footsteps re: siege. Tu Mu, one of many Sun Tzu’s commentators, clarifies letting an outlet for an army under siege doesn’t mean letting the enemy go, it means not to press them so they will fight out of desperation. Mr. Magnier points out another reason, the perception it creates on the outside world that those living under siege are “victims” of an aggressor, in this case the SAA, and the Western MSM amplifies their “suffering,” while the takfiris use civilians as shields for their war crimes and engineer fake and phony “chemical” attacks.

    Sultan Erdogan projection of power is skewed, running through many contradictory vectors, his foreign policy can be summed up as penny wise, pound foolish. As with all foreign policies, Erdogan’s is just an extension of his domestic policy, mainly a self-promotion for domestic consumption with the useful idiots that still believe he’s hard at work getting back the Ottoman Empire. His army is in a similar position to the Red Army after Stalin’s “Great Terror,” in shock and awe of a petty tyrant whose main power tool is fear, top command positions were filled under the “kadrolasma” system of “yes men,” incapable to process or counter Erdogan’s whims of grandeur, whether in Syria or Libya.

    The Russians gave Erdogan quite a bit of mileage while ensnaring him in a complex skein through the S-400’s and the TurkStream, an homage to his power-hungry ego, tying him up in Syria through the Astana Process. Erdogan wrongly assume he could kick the can down the M5/M6 for as long as he wanted, arguing Turkey’s security interests through the usual boogeyman, the Kurds, while arming and supporting a motley crew of veritable orcs, Al-Qaeda in Syria et al, and US/Saudi/Israel financed groups. His time ran out, the Russians demanded payment, Erdogan refused to pay his share of the Astana agreements, and the rest is history in the making.

    The role of Erdogan in Syria, though justified through the Kurds and Turkey “national security,” it is more that of a petty thief, a war profiteer. Erdogan is desperate for Turkey to have its own oil and gas sources, was comfortable stealing oil from Syria for years, his own son Bilal controlled the entire operation worth billions. He’s risking a war with Greece for gas resources, and a conflict with Egypt for his support of the UN-recognized Libyan “government” in search of delimiting maritime boundaries that will help Turkey out of the stranglehold is facing in the Mediterranean.

    Erdogan knows his “army” cannot sustain a prolonged conflict against his adversaries, current and potential, he’s content engaging in low intensity conflicts, which keep Turkey’s M-I complex churning weapons and ordnance for Erdogan’s little adventures. War is business, business is war. This time, however, the Russians (and the Chinese in the background), will not let up until the extermination of the vermin that has destroyed Syria. The Russian know the danger of having a flank exposed on their soft Caucasus underbelly, and the Chinese don’t want seasoned, battle-hardened Uighurs back in China stirring rebellions.

    On another note, the US just unveiled its 2019-2025 C5+1 plan for Central Asia, a dangerous proposition for Russia and China. The US aims at countering their influence in the stans, and to gain access to Afghanistan from the north, another reason for the Russians to hurry up and finish the job in Syria. Turkey and the US will try by all means to sabotage the SAA advance in Idlib, where the Syrian army has the upper hand militarily, and neither Turkey nor the US have what is needed to stop the Syrian advance.

    Again, the conquest of Idlib and the liberation of the provinces bordering Turkey, falls on Russia’s political will. So far, time and again Putin has made concessions to Erdogan, played his game of deception, pretending Erdogan is on the same page fighting takfiris. We sure hope this time Putin has learned the lesson, and will allow the will of the Syrian people to be fully expressed in the liberation of Idlib and all Turkish occupied territory.

    Lone Wolf

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