Turkey’s Erdogan Set To Meet Putin For Crucial Syria Talks Amid Ongoing Operation

Fuad Muxtarlı Analysis 5 March 2020
Turkey’s Erdogan Set To Meet Putin For Crucial Syria Talks Amid Ongoing Operation

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is flying to Moscow for a pivotal Syria talks with Russian President Vladimir Putin amid heavy military losses of official Damascus on the battle field that got escalated soon after the killing of 34 Turkish soldiers in Idlib province.

"Plans are in store to discuss the Idlib crisis with Erdogan. We expect that an understanding on the forerunner of that crisis, the reasons for that crisis, the fallout from that crisis and the package of necessary joint measures aimed at ending it will be reached," Kremlin Spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters on Wednesday

The Kremlin spokesman refrained from specifying what particular measures were meant. "Let’s wait for tomorrow," he opined.

Turkey will be at the negotiations table with the military advantage on the field with the help of drones that has changed the way military operations are conducted.

Turkish drones – a game changer in Idlib

Turkey has deployed dozens of drones, as well as heavy artillery in the area to hit pieces of Syrian military hardware and targets amid escalation in the region.

Turkey’s swarms of killer drones strike Russian-backed Syrian government forces, in what military pundits call a military innovation that demonstrated Ankara’s technological prowess on the battlefield.

The retaliation for the killing last week of 33 Turkish soldiers by Syrian forces involved an unprecedented number of drones in coordinated action. It is the first time the country commands the air space over such a large area using drone swarms.

The series of strikes since Thursday by dozens of the remotely-controlled aircraft targeted Syrian bases and chemical warfare depots. But Turkey also located and destroyed some Syrian missile-defence systems, raising questions about the efficiency of the Russian-made equipment intended to deter such air attacks.

Military observers believe that that is something only Israel has been recorded publicly to have done until now. Turkey is waging an air campaign run entirely by armed drones backed up by heavy rocket artillery.

Turkey’s Erdogan is flying to Moscow against the backdrop of its ally’s heavy military losses on the battlefield.

The Kremlin spokesman, Dmitriy Peskov, earlier stressed that Moscow was committed to the Sochi agreements, favored Syria’s territorial integrity, supported Syria’s determination to continue the fight against terrorist groups, including those on the UN Security Council’s list and assigned high priority to cooperation with its Turkish partners.

The Turkish president told journalists that he expected a ceasefire would be declared in Idlib following his Thursday’s talks with President Putin.

The Turkish media say that prior to the two leaders’ talks, the delegations of the two countries could meet to once again specify their expectations as to the situation in Idlib. It is expected that Turkey will seek to ensure that the Syrian troops stop returning territories in Idlib under the control of Damascus. Ankara believes this condition is important "to put an end to a humanitarian disaster and prevent new waves of refugees to the border with Turkey".

Meanwhile, the Russian Center for Reconciliation of the Opposing Parties dismissed on March 3 allegations from representatives of Turkey, the EU and the US about millions of refugees in that de-escalation zone. It is not ruled out that Ankara will bring up the issue of the use of airspace over Idlib at the talks.

The Sabah daily close to the Turkish government maintains that the sides at the talks in Moscow may sign a new agreement that could become a revised version of the previous Sochi memorandum.

Erdogan is one of the leaders who the Russian president talks to most frequently. The upcoming talks will be their third personal meeting this year. According to reports on the Kremlin website, last year Putin spoke with Erdogan over the phone 12 times, more than with anybody else among his foreign counterparts. This year, the Russian and Turkish presidents have had five phone calls, two of which took place at the end of February already against the backdrop of a crisis in Idlib.

The tensions in Syria’s Idlib region escalated on February 27 after militants unleashed a large-scale offensive, according to the Russian Defense Ministry. The Syrian government forces conducted strikes on their positions, which, killed 34 Turkish soldiers. In response, Turkey’s Air Force conducted strikes on the Syrian troops, later specifying that more than 200 targets had been hit.

Soon after the killing of the Turkish troops, Ankara launched an operation in Syria, dubbed Operation Spring Shield, targeting the Syrian government forces and facilities.

Turkish National Defense Ministry on Thursday said it neutralized scores of Bashar al-Assad regime troops, military vehicles, and weapons in the past 24 hours as part of its recent military operation in northern Syria, Anatolian news agency said

In an official statement, the ministry said Turkey’s military operation successfully continued with aerial and ground assistance. “Four tanks, five cannons/MLRSs (Multi Launch Rocket System), three anti-tank weapons, eight military vehicles, two machine gun vehicles, two armored vehicles were destroyed in the past 24 hours,” said the statement. It added: “184 regime troops were neutralized as well.”

On February 27, Turkey launched Operation Spring Shield in north-western Syria after at least 34 Turkish soldiers were martyred in a Syrian regime airstrike in Idlib late February.

The regime and its allies have consistently broken the terms of the 2018 cease-fire and a new one that started on January 12, launching frequent attacks inside the territory. This has resulted in casualties, as well as a recent influx of irregular migrants along the border of Turkey, which already hosts over 3.7 million Syrians.