Escalation in Idlib: no sign of conflict ending

The situation in the Syrian province of Idlib continues to escalate. Dozens of Turkish soldiers have been killed over the last few days. Turkey has reacted with counterstrikes and shot down a Syrian fighter jet - further fuelling tensions with Russia, which supports Assad. Journalists are having difficulty making out which side has the upper hand.

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Hürriyet Daily News (TR) /

Worst case for Turkey

Turkey must admit that it miscalculated, comments Hürriyet Daily News:

“Unfortunately, the worst scenario concerning Idlib is happening. Fifty-one Turkish soldiers were killed in less than a month in the wrist wrestling between Ankara and Moscow. The policymakers in Ankara were obviously in a miscalculation over the Russian stance as they were hoping that Turkey's massive military deployment and reinforcements would deter the Russian-Syrian alliance. It simply didn't. It's time to return to realistic diplomacy and relocate the Turkish military presence in Idlib in line with the new realities in the field.”

Radio Kommersant FM (RU) /

Russia needs to watch out now

Radio Kommersant FM wonders if Moscow's success in the Syrian war will backfire:

“It's obvious that neither the West nor Erdoğan have any love lost for Assad. They were already calling for his removal five years ago. The fact that this issue disappeared from the agenda is largely due to Russia's tough stance. But everything is changing. We are now fighting in Idlib against the same pro-Turkish Sunni opposition that had fled from Assad. To bring them back and form a coalition government was the original goal of Ankara and the West. ... But it's not easy for Russia to wage a major war so far away from its main bases. Two warships won't be enough. And on top of that, we are politically isolated there. As difficult as Erdoğan may be as a politician, it goes without saying that the West is on his side.”

La Stampa (IT) /

UN Peacekeepers are the only answer

La Stampa comments:

“The only way forward is to have UN troops guarantee a cease-fire. Ankara is clearly under pressure, as evidenced by the repeated, ineffective ultimatums imposed on Assad and the Russians; the threats to dump refugees at Europe's borders; and the calls for help from NATO. ... Moscow's repeated attempts to negotiate with Ankara to create a 'security zone' show that Russia is also trying to bring the game to an end. At the same time France is trying to organise a meeting with Germany, Russia and Turkey. ... But a European initiative must neither be limited to humanitarian aid nor evade a comprehensive commitment. It must start with support for the constitutional committee that the UN established in September and then apparently abandoned.”

Keskisuomalainen (FI) /

A shameful catastrophe

The international community is incapable of ending the war in Syria, Keskisuomalainen laments:

“Around 900,000 people have fled their homes in the last two months. At least half of them are children. They are dying because of the fighting as well as from frost and carbon monoxide when, amidst the snow, desperate attempts are made to warm the refugee tents with anything that burns. Tents have also burned down. The war is a terrible disaster for Syria and it is shameful that it continues year after year. A political solution to the conflict would require the resolute will of the international community. But the major powers don't appear to be interested in a solution, and other parties are not in a position to bring it about.”

The Irish Times (IE) /

The West should have toppled Assad long ago

The Irish Times laments that the Syrian dictator wasn't toppled in the early stages of the civil war:

“To be sure, in a post-Assad Syria internecine violence and political squabbling between competing parties would likely have continued for years, much the way it has in Libya. … But a Syria without Assad at the helm today would still have been a much better place: In a post-Assad Syria, elections would be fraught and probably not entirely fair, but would have represented initial, critical acts of democratic activity. International aid agencies would have poured in to help with postwar humanitarian work, saving countless lives. Foreign companies and businesses would have moved to Syria and established a new economy and jobs for thousands.”

Naftemporiki (GR) /

A battlefield for global politics

Even the currently close relationship between Moscow and Ankara was not enough to prevent an escalation, Naftemporiki notes:

“Russo-Turkish cooperation led to the Sochi agreement under which Turkey set up observation posts in Idlib, which enabled the Russian-backed Syrian armed forces to act quickly - until the recent incidents and the undeclared war between Ankara and Damascus. The most recent developments around Idlib confirm once more that Syria has become a battlefield for conflicting regional interests. Since the Syrian civil war broke out in 2011, the regional powers Turkey, Iran, Israel and Russia have been playing their own game of influence there, not to mention the presence of the US and EU.”

Vzglyad (RU) /

Erdogan won't risk defeat

It's unlikely that Erdoğan will employ massive military force against Syrian troops in Idlib, Middle East expert Gevorg Mirzayan writes In Vzglyad:

“Not because the Turks lack the troops, or even because there are Turkish observation points behind the lines of Assad's advancing army whose soldiers are effectively hostages. Erdoğan is simply not ready to fight Damascus (i.e. Moscow and Tehran) because that would mean facing defeat. The result would be the cancellation of all agreements regarding Turkish interests in Syria and, even worse for Erdoğan, the strenthening of his opponents in Turkey. They are already turning the president's Syrian aggression to their own advantage and accusing him of getting the country involved in an unnecessary conflict.”

Il Manifesto (IT) /

Anti-Iranian motivation behind US intervention

This time the US is more clearly in agreement with Erdoğan than ever before, Middle East expert Alberto Negri comments in Il Manifesto:

“In the US-Turkey-Russia triangle for the division of the zones of influence, Washington seems to have decided to intervene by driving a wedge into the increasingly clear cracks in the dialogue between Moscow and Ankara. A dialogue on which the fate of a strategic arc stretching all the way from Syria to Libya seemed to depend. An American move that is aimed against Russia, but above all against Iran, Assad's historic ally which after the US's assassination of General Qassem Soleimani in Iraq and with the advance of the Syrian army in the north of the country has reinforced its role as a supporter of the Ba'ath regime [led by Bashar al-Assad].”

Le Monde (FR) /

Another bloodbath must be prevented

Further escalation would have devastating consequences, Le Monde warns:

“There is no good solution for Idlib. However, continuing this supposedly 'final' military offensive is certainly the worst for all concerned. Not only would it speed up the forcible displacement of the population towards Turkey, destabilising regions that are already volatile and encouraging Ankara to once again blackmail the European Union with refugees, it would also lead to the jihadists and their weapons being dispersed throughout Syria and Turkey. ... Only a genuine ceasefire which includes all the rebel groups and for which all signatories vouch can prevent a final bloodbath with unpredictable consequences.”

Novaya Gazeta (RU) /

Conflict provoked between protective powers

Novaya Gazeta's military expert Pavel Felgenhauer fears that the local warring parties are deliberately provoking a conflict between their respective protective powers:

“The opposition fighters who have been driven into a corner in Idlib are not particularly eager to pit themselves against a far more powerful enemy. Instead they're waiting for the Turks to finally launch a major operation with all the heavy weapons they themselves lack and drive the Syrian army out of Idlib. ... Damascus regards the 'moderate Islamist' Erdoğan as an arch-enemy and patron of the radical opposition, which only Russian intervention in the civil war in 2015 prevented from coming to power in Syria. To secure its final victory in the civil war Damascus is apparently now willing to provoke a direct Russian-Turkish confrontation.”

Le Soir (BE) /

Erdoğan is just playing games

Le Soir, on the other hand, does not believe it will come to a direct confrontation between Ankara and Moscow in Syria:

“The two men need each other. The economic ties (tourism, arms purchases, the acquisition of a nuclear power plant, the new Russian gas pipeline, etc.) are too profitable to be put at risk. So a military confrontation is unlikely, and the Russian airmen will retain their monopoly in the sky above Idlib. Erdoğan's belligerent and dramatic tones have only one goal: to convince Putin to stop the advance of the Syrian army towards the Turkish border. For the ruler in Ankara, the objective is to prevent the arrival of new refugees and to consolidate the Turkish presence in northern Syria in order to silence the Kurds there.”

Cumhuriyet (TR) /

Sochi agreement worthless

The Sochi agreement of autumn 2018 commits Ankara to disarming jihadist groups and making the key M4 and M5 motorways drivable once more. But Ankara has failed to do either of these things, Cumhuriyet stresses:

“President Erdoğan demands that the Sochi agreement be respected, but in view of the facts this remains meaningless. Did the president believe when he signed the agreement that he would be able to fulfil these two points? Or did he just think: 'We will sign it then do as we please, guaranteeing the inviolability of Idlib and in this way consolidating the current situation'? … If we look at the facts this certainly seems to be the case! If you [President Erdoğan] don't fulfil these two points, every political analyst will interpret this as meaning that you want to create an autonomous area against Damascus in Idlib.”

Radio Kommersant FM (RU) /

Erdoğan and Putin need each other

Radio Kommersant FM still sees chances for a compromise:

“For Russia, it doesn't matter all that much whether Assad gains control of the whole unfortunate province of Idlib or whether part of it remains in the Turkish zone of influence. If this is so important for Erdoğan and he is prepared to make concessions in other areas, such an arrangement could be negotiable. After all, the Kremlin needs Erdoğan - despite his unpredictability, impulsiveness and unbridled geopolitical ambitions. And the Turkish president, who doesn't exactly have many allies, needs Putin - because it's not so easy to renounce economic contacts, gas contracts and millions of Russian tourists.”

Karar (TR) /

Ankara paying for change of policy

Karar emphasises that Ankara now urgently needs NATO's solidarity:

“The Russians want Turkey to 'neutralise' terrorist organisations like Hayat Tahrir al-Sham in Idlib. Since this is very difficult, Assad and Putin are using this as an excuse for their attacks. ... No matter what our military resistance in the field looks like, Turkey urgently needs a strong helping hand. ... If Turkey's traditional foreign policy axis as a Nato member, pro-Western country and EU candidate were still as strong as it used to be, one would expect expressions of solidarity from the Nato. Ankara should understand that it needs to realign its domestic and foreign policy with this axis. History proves that.”

Ekho Moskvy (RU) /

List of victims getting longer

Echo of Moscow criticises the fact that the Moscow army leadership isn't naming the Russians who have died in Syria:

“If we are fighting a just war in Syria, there is no need to hide the names or think up embarrassing formulations. More difficult to answer is the question of what we are actually doing in Syria, and when it will be over. ... How many times have the troops been withdrawn since they were deployed there? How many times has victory over the forces of evil been proclaimed? Three times? Four times? ... We say goodbye, but we don't leave. There was a concert in liberated Palmyra, then it was occupied again. ... Since the victory over the bandits, the losses have only increased - and the latest victims have just extended a list that unfortunately is not yet complete.”

Hürriyet Daily News (TR) /

Stop complaining and seek solutions instead!

It's too late to criticise Turkey for intervening in Syria, comments Hürriyet Daily News:

“Is it of any use to keep asking 'Why are we in Syria?' If it was a mistake or not, that's an issue that ought to have been closed long ago. It was done. We are in Syria or Syrians are in Turkey. That's the reality we have to embrace. Now we better focus on how we may contribute to a resolution of the Syrian quagmire, find ways of integrating the millions of refugees with the Turkish society or, better, how to create the conditions of return of at least some of them back to their homeland.”

Gazeta Wyborcza (PL) /

Next crisis around the corner for EU

Gazeta Wyborcza doubts that there can be an end to the violence:

“Ankara has already accepted that Assad will win in Idlib. The successful Syrian-Russian offensive has already prompted hundreds of thousands of people to flee the besieged province to find refuge on the Turkish side of the border. But Turkey has already taken in 3.6 million Syrians and won't be willing to take in even more: The fall of Idlib would mean that these people would head for the European Union, which would lead to an acute crisis in Brussels.”

Milliyet (TR) /

The ramifications of Turkey's change of course

Turkey has adopted a new approach in Syria, Milliyet notes:

“It looks as if Turkey has unilaterally changed its mission in Idlib. After [the 2018 meeting between Erdoğan and Putin in] Sochi, Turkey took on the role of 'supervisor of the ceasefire'. The strength, composition and positioning of the armed forces was determined accordingly. But the mission is now to use force to stop Assad's soldiers in particular areas. In other words, it seems to have turned into a 'peace-enforcement' operation. This change in the nature of the mission means first of and foremost a change in the composition and positioning of the forces. This will in turn impact military and political relations in the region.”

France Inter (FR) /

Putin not interested in de-escalation

The most powerful warlord in the Syrian conflict is apparently indifferent to the humanitarian tragedy, columnist Pierre Haski complains on radio broadcaster France Inter:

“Only Vladimir Putin can prevent further escalation. He is playing a complex game that is not always understood by the actors on the ground or the rest of the world. But he is the only one who can demand that the Syrian army stop its artillery fire - without Russia, the regime in Damascus would have been overthrown long ago. He is also the only one who can negotiate in parallel with Erdoğan, the president of a Turkey that is a NATO member but has purchased the Russian S-400 missile defence system. ... As a pyromaniac and arbiter of the broken ceasefires, Putin certainly has the power to put an end to the humanitarian disaster if he wants to. But the Lord of the Kremlin has other priorities.”

Yetkin Report (TR) /

Soldiers sent to their deaths in vain

Turkey is mourning five Turkish soldiers who have been killed in Syria to date. For the blog Yetkin Report, the country's military operation in Idlib is pointless:

“At a time when serious steps for a political resolution for Syria have been taken as part of the Geneva process thanks to deals with the U.S. and Russia, and the position of Turkey on the bargaining table has strengthened, is it worth losing soldiers, receiving more migrants and risking the country further in terms of politics, military and the economy only for the sake of some particular groups to hold the control of Idlib? Isn’t it time to say it is never too late and make a change? Is it really worth it?”

Corriere della Sera (IT) /

Assad senses final victory approaching

The world has simply forgotten the war in Syria, Corriere della Sera complains:

“Two hundred bombings in three days, 700,000 people on the run, hundreds of deaths in two weeks, eleven victims in an attack allegedly committed by Russian-backed government aircraft on two so very strategically important facilities: an emergency room and a bakery. So on injured and healthy people and those who take care of them. ... As so often is the case: when the world looks away (for example, as the coronavirus fever rages), the pace of conflicts accelerates. And the more the winners sense the final victory approaching, the more they accelerate. These are the worst (and mostly forgotten) moments of a war. For hospitals and bakeries, for the wounded and survivors, for carers and refugees.”

Daily Sabah (TR) /

Europe must be counterbalance to Russia

Turkey must finally receive international backing in the Syria conflict, Daily Sabah urges:

“The US and the EU need to step up - per Erdoğan's recommendation. As a last resort, they must be prepared to use hard power to protect the civilian population that Bashar Assad has banished from Idlib. The Turkish president's proposal to build housing centres for refugees '30 to 40 kilometres from the border' could be the first step towards some kind of safe zone. Angela Merkel needs to hurry up: Turkey alone cannot counterbalance the Russians in Idlib. Europe stands to suffer major setbacks if the balance of power collapses.”