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Idlib crisis tests the relationship between Erdogan and Putin

UNITED STATES (OBSERVATORY NEWS) — The bloody battles between the Turkish army and the Syrian forces in northwestern Syria threaten to end the “honeymoon” between Turkey and Russia supporting Damascus, even though it is expected that the two countries will avoid reaching a divorce.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan had approached Russia and established with her President Vladimir Putin a close personal relationship after surviving a coup attempt in 2016 followed by widespread repression criticized by the West.

In the midst of this, Syria, where Moscow supports the regime of President Bashar Al-Assad while Ankara attaches its support to some opposition factions, has turned into a prominent dossier to enhance cooperation between the two capitals, despite diverging interests.

However, this relationship that Erdogan describes as “strategy” has been broken for several weeks as a result of the deterioration of the scene in northwestern Syria, but also as a result of the differences in Ankara and Moscow in Libya, where the two capitals support conflicting parties.

On Monday, tension increased when Syrian artillery targeted Turkish sites in Idlib governorate, killing eight. Ankara immediately responded by bombing regime forces, a development that has killed at least 13 Syrian soldiers.

While Erdogan issued his warning to Damascus, he urged Russia to make more efforts to curb the Syrian regime, and on Wednesday he warned that Ankara would respond to any new attack without alerting Moscow.

“The escalation in Idlib will test the strength of the relations between Erdogan and Putin … We can no longer talk about a honeymoon between these two influential men,” says Emre Kaya, a researcher at the “EDAM” center in Istanbul, in an interview with AFP.

Kaya considers that even if Erdogan was attacking Damascus in particular, “Russian fingerprints are present in the field,” noting that Syrian units leading the attack in Idlib were “trained and prepared” by Moscow.

Realpolitik

The issue of Idlib will be like a difficult formula to resolve as long as it is impossible to reconcile the interests of Moscow and Ankara.

Indeed, the Syrian regime appears determined to regain its last rebel stronghold, at a time when Ankara opposes any large-scale attack that would spark a new wave of migration towards Turkey.

On Wednesday, Erdogan gave the regime until the end of February to withdraw from some locations within Idlib, threatening to resort to force if it did not comply.

This scene is reminiscent of the complexities of the relationship between Turkey and Russia, which have been based on the ruins of two empires that have long been competitors and whose relations have traditionally been characterized by mutual mistrust.

A serious diplomatic crisis erupted between them in 2015, when Turkish fighters shot down Russian fighters over the border with Syria.

However, analysts rule out a similar crisis as long as mutual interests are solid in many areas, from energy to defense and trade.

“Ankara and Moscow are forced to cooperate and maintain good relations, because the two countries are economically connected,” says Jana Jabbour, an expert on Turkish foreign policy at the Institute of Political Science in Paris.

Jabour considers that “the two countries will know how to differentiate between ‘topical’ tensions and the maintenance of their cooperation in key areas, especially energy and defense,” noting that Ankara and Moscow “prefer realistic and pragmatic policy in terms of managing their relations.”

Rapprochement between Turkey and the United States? –

In any case, Erdogan pointed out on Tuesday that he saw no interest in “starting a large-scale confrontation with Russia,” stressing “several (Russian-Turkish) strategic initiatives.”

In particular, the Turkish president ruled out any reconsideration of the Turkish purchase of the Russian S-400 system, a process that has angered its NATO partners.

On Thursday, Turkey called on Russia to take action to stop the Syrian forces’ attack on Idlib Governorate “as quickly as possible.” Foreign Minister Mevlüch Cawsoglu told reporters in Baku, capital of Azerbaijan, that a delegation from Russia would visit Turkey for further talks.

He also indicated that the Turkish president and his Russian counterpart could meet “if necessary,” adding that “we must continue to work with Russia.” If we were to solve the problems there, we would solve them together. ”

But despite the distance taken with the West and the rapprochement with Russia, Ankara rejects any alignment with Moscow, and stresses its desire to pursue an independent foreign policy that can swing from one camp to another according to interests.

In the aftermath of the clashes in Idlib, Washington brought rare support to Ankara, which was seen by observers as a tacit invitation to Turkey to return to the western fold.

Amri Kaya considers that the recent escalation “offers an important opportunity for rapprochement between Turkey and the United States, and perhaps rapprochement with other NATO allies.”

But despite that, “there is also a divergence of views between Ankara and Washington regarding the fate of the region,” according to Kaya, who explains that “while Ankara’s main goal is to avoid the flow of a new wave of refugees (towards it), Washington gives priority to ending terrorist entities.” In Idlib.

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