Military

Armenia’s Proxy Role In Turkish-Russian Row Over Syrian Idlib

Fuad Muxtarlı Analysis 10 February 2020
Armenia’s Proxy Role In Turkish-Russian Row Over Syrian Idlib

News coming from Syrian Idlib is dramatic and terrifying again and threats to have the major actors on the Syrian theatre of war to get involved the already complex situation.

The loss of four Turkish soldiers in the shelling of the Syrian armed forces and wounding of nine troops have added fuel to the unending Syrian war that has seen the whole of country disintegrated and razed to the ground. In response to the military losses, the Turkish artillery hit the Assad forces, killing 30-35 servicemen as Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said.

Strictly speaking, the situation around Syria’s Idlib has been heating up before our eyes for several weeks now. Here, the Assad regime made another attempt to “clean up” the Idlib province, where the forces of the Syrian moderate opposition, which Turkey supports, are concentrated. Reports of the advance of the Assad forces, air strikes of the Russian Air Force and the deaths of dozens of people have been coming from Syria for several weeks.

In view of aggravation of the situation around Idlib and anticipating the inflow of new waves of refugees into Turkey, Ankara dispatched troops and armoured vehicles to halt the advance of the Assad forces. Turkey also urged Russia, who dictates the conditions in Syria, to halt shelling of places settled by civilians. Experts are already openly voicing the question if it will lead to a direct military clash between Russia and Turkey on the Syrian field?

Turkish President Erdogan, in any case, has already made a very tough statement to Russia. Noting that Turkish and Russian military experts maintain contact after the shelling of Turkish troops in Idlib, Turkey sent Russia "a message not to oppose the Turkish operation in Idlib, since its purpose is the Assad regime," Erdogan warned: if Moscow cannot stop Bashar al-Assad’s regime in Idlib, then let him not try to put obstacles in the way of the Turkish army. And although Erdogan, as it were, leaves Russia a “political corridor” in order not to get involved in an open conflict with Turkey in Syria, even in this case it will be much more difficult for Moscow to save face, and even more so, its position in Syria if at all possible.

It is not even a matter of how Moscow will act in this situation, whether it will “surrender” Bashar al-Assad as exactly it did with Gaddafi in Libya, even earlier – Milosevic in Yugoslavia, Saddam Hussein in Iraq and Najibullah in Afghanistan, or go to an open military conflict with Turkey.

Another thing is important. The fighting in Idlib has already done heavy and, most likely, irreparable damage to what was recently called the "special relations" between Moscow and Ankara. Even in Syria, where the interests of the two countries diverged, Russia and Turkey quite successfully agreed in the capital of Kazakhstan, then called Astana, on the peace process, inter-Syrian negotiations and the creation of security zones, at least they found mutual understanding on the “Kurdish issue”, and the military personnel of the two countries conducted joint patrols.

It is all the more understandable that Russia itself dealt the first devastating blow to this partnership with the hands of its satellites, like Assad in Syria and Haftar in Libya. The Kremlin once again very eloquently demonstrated that it does not consider it necessary to comply with agreements, treaties and obligations undertaken. Moreover, the ability of Russia to be a partner and an ally, with whom it makes sense to agree on something and wait for these agreements to be respected, has now been called into question.

But, one way or another, now Turkey is making a return move and not only in Syria. Amid the tension with Russia, the Turkish president visited Kiev and pledged 50m dollars in the military aid to Ukraine. And this speaks volumes against the background of developments between Russia and Ukraine in Turkey’s proximity. Ankara is already supplying strike drones to Kiev and it is unlikely that Turkey does not know with whom Ukraine is fighting in the Donbas and who occupied the Crimea. In a word, relations between Russia and Turkey are heating up on all fronts and directions.

Azerbaijan has own “reading of the situation” and own interest. For obvious reasons, Baku from the very beginning welcomed the rapprochement and partnership between Russia and Turkey and pinned serious hopes on this process, from general "geopolitical silence" to a possible positive impact on the Karabakh negotiations. Turkey is a truly fraternal country for us, good-neighborly relations and an established constructive partnership are built between Azerbaijan and Russia.

But if now this partnership has collapsed under the blows of the Russian air forces on the civilian population in Idlib, then for the South Caucasus, this is fraught with considerable risks. Especially taking into account the presence of Russia's beloved outpost in the person of Armenia, which from the very beginning was created precisely against the Ottoman Empire, and then was used against the Republic of Turkey, where the build-up of the “armored fist” at the Russian military base in Armenia with new weapon “gifts” to its obedient outpost and much more are already quite expected.

But that’s the thing. For Azerbaijan, such a development of events carries, of course, considerable risks. It is another matter that our country, with its independent foreign policy, prepared by the army, a stable economy and successful diplomacy, has sufficient resources and potentials to minimize these risks. In a word, for Azerbaijan this, of course, is a problem and a “headache”, but not a question of survival. But for Armenia, this “proxy conflict” can turn into a real catastrophe.

Today, in Yerevan, of course, dividends are being calculated and hands are rubbed in anticipation of new weapons trenches. But it’s not even a matter of whether Moscow will continue to tolerate selfie lover Nikol Pashinyan as prime minister or prefer to put a more controlled politician in this chair, especially since Russia has enough political and power leverages for a “coup with foreign participation.”

As knowledgeable people have long known, “outposts” are needed not only to place their military bases and “forward staging post” there. Their main task is to do “dirty work” for their owners. And also to accept all responsibility and retaliation, especially if the military fortune once again demonstrates its volatile disposition, events do not develop according to the script written in the "landlord’s" headquarters, and the "metropolis" is simply not up to its "outpost", which also does not have a reliable land connection with this "metropolis".

And yes, a hundred years ago something similar in Armenian history already existed. So it’s unlikely that Yerevan should expect to warm his hands in the fire of another’s war. Jokes with fire never ended well.

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