July 1, 2020
Three months ago when the Assad regime surrounded the Turkish observation post in Idlib’s Morek, I argued that Turkey needed a new approach to Idlib in order to prevent a bigger disaster. Since then, the situation in Idlib has relatively calmed down and the joint Syrian-Turkish military operation against the YPG has redirected the focus of the world to northeast Syria. The dynamic situation in this region, including the development of bilateral agreements between Turkey and Russia and between Turkey and the US in addition to the repositioning of the US to the oilfields of Syria has resulted in a general ignorance of the current situation in Idlib. Every side is using its energy to gain a bigger piece of the cake in northeast Syria, except for Iran. The latest attack on the IDP camp in Qah, in its inhuman brutality has no military purpose but was intended to shift the focus from northeast Syria to Idlib.
The dynamics between Russia and Turkey
in Idlib and northeast Syria are opposite but similar to each other. The Russians demand the withdrawal of radical elements from the agreed demilitarized zone; the Turks demand the withdrawal of the Marxist YPG from the agreed safe-zone. Both sides criticize the other for not implementing the agreement and threatening the other with a military operation. However, there are also significant differences. The situation in northeast Syria is a direct threat to Turkey’s national security, but the situation in Idlib is not for Russia.
Another Turkish-backed operation against the YPG would not have costs for Russia except for the loss of additional gains and leverage. A Russian-backed operation on Idlib would be catastrophic for Turkey as Turkey can’t bear the burden of a further two million more refugees. On military terms, Russia has air superiority in Idlib, but Turkey has air superiority in northeast Syria. In all of this, the US has given massive de-facto support to Russia’s position against Turkey but does give diplomatic and rhetorical support for Turkey in Idlib.