As Turkey Hits Back Syria, NATO Supports Ankara, Putin Calls Erdogan
Turkey has vowed to strongly retaliate against the killing of 33 troops by airstrikes of the Russian-backed Syrian fighters in Idlib late on 27 February.
The harsh reaction to Syria's action was swift with the Turkish forces pounding the Syrian regime targets all night, killing hundreds of the regime supporters.
The Turkish troops are in the Idlib region under the Sochi and Astana agreements between Ankara and Moscow to protect local civilians from the Syrian regime’s offensive.
Aerial images taken by drones show moments Turkish forces hit the Assad regime targets from ground and air after the killings of 33 soldiers. The images shown by TV channels throughout the day proved Turkey had destroyed hundreds of targets - tanks, helicopters, pieces of various military hardware and military personnel. In view of the recent killings, Ankara would not stop at this and go ahead and push away the Russian and Iran-backed militia groups from areas under the protection of the Turkish army, pundits believe.
The latest attack against the Turkish army units was one of a series since January, with Turkish officials keeping their pledges that such assaults would not go unanswered.
In September 2018, Turkey and Russia agreed to turn Idlib into a de-escalation zone in which acts of aggression are expressly prohibited.
Russia plays own game and possible Erdogan-Putin meeting
In the meantime, the Kremlin denied any role in the attack against the Turkish units and urged for restraint to avoid further aggravation. The Russian pro-government media also backed Moscow’s policies in Syria, blaming Turkey for not meeting the conditions of the agreements to this end.
Obviously, the Kremlin does not want to back down from military and political support to the Assad regime.
The Syrian army has the right to suppress terrorists in the Idlib province and Moscow cannot prevent it from doing so, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said on Friday.
"The Syrian army has every right to respond to repeated ceasefire violations in the Idlib zone and suppress terrorists. We cannot stop the Syrian army from implementing the provisions of UN Security Council resolutions on the uncompromising fight against all forms of terrorism," Lavrov said.
The top diplomat reaffirmed Moscow's full commitment to the agreements on Syria’s Idlib reached by the Russian and Turkish presidents and urged Ankara to begin to abide by them, too.
"We reaffirm our full commitment to those agreements, which have been reached by the Russian and Turkish presidents regarding what has to be done in the Idlib de-escalation zone: to disengage the normal opposition from terrorists, demilitarize the inner belt in that zone so that no one can shell Syrian army positions and the Russian military base from there and to ensure the unhindered use of the motorways, which pass through that zone. That remains our common goal with our Turkish counterparts. Nevertheless, it is essential to start implementing these agreements, since things did not work out properly for a year and a half," he stated.
For his turn, amid rising tension that threatens to further spoil the current level of the relations between Moscow and Ankara in view of interests of both sides, Russian and Turkish Presidents Vladimir Putin and Recep Tayyip Erdogan do not rule out that they could meet in the immediate future.
According to the Kremlin press service, the two leaders held a telephone conversation on Friday.
"Both sides highlighted the need for additional measures to stabilize the situation in north-western Syria," the press service noted. The Kremlin stressed that the parties "agreed to intensify relevant inter-agency consultations and explore the possibility of holding a top-level meeting in the immediate future."
The two leaders continued to exchange views on the situation in Syria and voiced grave concern over the escalation of tensions in Idlib resulting in loss of life, including among Turkish military servicemen, the statement reads. Both sides also "highlighted the importance of improving coordination between the Russian and Turkish Defense Ministries."
On the same time, against these developments, in Brussels, NATO members met as Ankara requested under the Article 4 consultations on the situation in Syria and expressed solidarity with Turkey without firm pledges.
All NATO member states expressed solidarity with Turkey in the wake of Thursday’s deadly Assad regime attack in Idlib, northwestern Syria that killed 33 Turkish soldiers and wounded dozens, said the alliance’s chief.
Allies condemn the continued indiscriminate air strikes by the Syrian regime and its backer Russia in Idlib province. We call on them to stop their offensive; to respect international law and back UN efforts for a peaceful solution, the alliance said in a press release.
This dangerous situation must be deescalated to avoid further worsening of the horrendous humanitarian situation in the region, and to allow urgent humanitarian access for those trapped in Idlib. We urge an immediate return to the 2018 ceasefire, the NATO chief said, the document added.
Today’s meeting is a sign of solidarity with Turkey. Turkey is the NATO ally most affected by the terrible conflict in Syria, which has suffered the most terrorist attacks, and which hosts millions of refugees.
“NATO continues to support Turkey with a range of measures, including by augmenting its air defences, which helps Turkey against the threat of missile attacks from Syria. Allies will continue to follow developments on the south-eastern border of NATO very closely,” the press release said.
Azerbaijan backs Turkey
Azerbaijan's Foreign Ministry offered condolences to Turkey after a Syrian regime attack in Idlib martyred dozens of Turkish soldiers.
"We are deeply saddened by the news that Turkish soldiers were martyred in Idlib. We wish Allah's mercy on the martyrs, extend our condolences to their families and the Turkish nation," the Foreign Ministry said in a tweet.