Russia seeks to hold reluctant Turkey accountable in Syria
Turkey once again finds itself in the middle in the Syrian crisis, trying to reassure the opposition groups it supports while keeping Russia happy.
By Fehim Tastekin*
Turkey, which is badly pressed to fulfill the commitments it made to Russia during the Sochi negotiations on Syria, and to the local opposition to the Syrian regime, which it promised to protect at Idlib, is now trying to find a way to extricate itself from being stuck between Russia and the Syrian rebels.
When Turkey’s campaign to create a buffer zone east of the Euphrates River did not
work out, Russia succeeded in dragging Turkey back to the Idlib agenda. On March
The new text introduced some interesting points. On March 8, Russian forces patrolled on one side of the buffer boundary as Turkish troops patrolled the other.
Turkish troops accompanied by militants of the Muslim Brotherhood-
The alleged green light by Turkey upset the local pro-
The steps Russia has taken so far show that Turkey probably will not be able to avoid fulfilling its commitments, but the situation also raises the question of whether Turkey is actually subscribing to the Russian operational plan that will put Idlib under the control of the Syrian regime army.
The accord signed Sept. 17 in Sochi tasked Turkey with an impossible mission: establish
a demilitarized zone of 15-
Although Turkey managed to get some heavy weapons removed from the demilitarized
zone to save face, other conditions weren't implemented. To the contrary, HTS was
able to crush the Turkey-
Meanwhile, Turkey was engaged in efforts to get HTS removed from the terror organization list and link it to the National Liberation Front (NLF), a coalition Turkey had formed in May. Toward that end, a meeting called the Syrian Revolution General Conference was organized Feb. 11 in Idlib to replace the Syrian Salvation Government with a new civilian administration. The conference also heard proposals to form an executive council and a joint command center to unite military wings. No action was taken on the proposals.
A meeting scheduled for March 14 in Hatay, Turkey, was scrapped at the last moment,
but would have brought together the Free Syrian Army, which was trained and equipped
by Turkey; the Syrian High Negotiations Committee, which represented the opposition
at Astana; the National Coalition for Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces;
and the Syrian Islamic Council. This meeting was supposed to ensure unity between
the Syrian Interim Government working under Turkey’s support and the Syrian Salvation
Government. Such efforts are likely to continue. Also at the February meeting, a
proposal for a military coordination body bringing together groups such as HTS and
Tanzim Huras al-
But there are no guarantees these objectives can be achieved under current conditions,
with the groups ignoring the Sochi accord and attacking the regime forces at Hama,
Latakia and rural Aleppo. Even the groups supposedly under Turkey’s tutelage have
discarded the de-
As tension mounts around Idlib, leaders of armed groups are threatening to escalate the situation with guerrilla tactics.
All these complex schemes have generated a debate among the opposition groups over whether the Astana peace process for Syria has collapsed.
Although the optimism that Astana would forever guarantee that Turkey would remain
a shield for the opposition has been dissipating, nobody is yet ready to declare
the death of the Astana process, as Turkey and Russia continue joint operations in
the field. Moreover, it is too early still to conclude that the Syrian regime and
Russia are about to launch their long-
Preservation of the status quo at Idlib seems essential to the future of Russian-
Also, the US reaction to such an operation should not be overlooked just because Washington has said it plans to withdraw from Syria.
To summarize the latest situation in Idlib: Although unwillingly adhering to Russia's
operations plan, Turkey still hopes HTS will be freed from the terrorist label, so
a new "terror-
*Fehim Tastekin is a Turkish journalist and a columnist for Turkey Pulse who previously
wrote for Radikal and Hurriyet. He has also been the host of the weekly program "SINIRSIZ,"
on IMC TV. As an analyst, Tastekin specializes in Turkish foreign policy and Caucasus,
Middle East and EU affairs. He is the author of “Suriye: Yikil Git, Diren Kal,” “Rojava:
Kurtlerin Zamani” and “Karanlık Coktugunde -