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Syria and Messages Soaked in Blood

Syria and Messages Soaked in Blood

Monday, 2 March, 2020 - 09:45
Ghassan Charbel
Ghassan Charbel is the editor-in-chief of Asharq Al-Awsat newspaper

The terror of the Coronavirus has spread all over the cosmic village and has become the number-one concern of leaders and governments. Two men stayed out of this new equation: Vladimir Putin and Recep Tayyip Erdogan. In their offices, the fire of the battles in Idlib took precedence over everything else.

The bloody confrontations between the Turkish and Syrian armies have put the relationship between the Turkish and Russian presidents under a difficult test. A test of prestige, image, and ability to protect interests.

The harshest experiments are those where the parties involved are unable to retract and accept the loss. In Syria, Putin maintains a decisive policy that enables President Bashar al-Assad’s regime to recover all of Syria’s soil. He did not show any signs of anxiety about scenes reminiscent of the “solution” he imposed in Grozny. That is, maximum violence to reach complete victory.

But Syria is not Chechnya. Perhaps that is why Putin has preferred a gradual nibbling policy over devouring a hot meal at once. The Astana and Sochi breaks were just breathtaking truces.

Putin was most likely hoping to complete his project without major obstacles, especially as he puts it under the title of “Fighting terrorists holed up in Idlib.”

Past years have taught him that America does not want to be involved in the Syrian conflict and that Europe is an aging continent that embellishes data to ease the conscience. He knows that NATO has lost the appetite for engagement outside the European arena and that statements by members of the Security Council are like crying over spilled milk.

The nibbling policy required a set of procedures, the first of which is disrupting the role of the Security Council in the Syrian crisis by raising the veto sword. China has often joined the Russian position.

Another procedure is dissociating Israel by allowing it to wage war against Iranian military infrastructure on Syrian soil and establishing a warm relationship with Benjamin Netanyahu.

The Russian policy also required the adaptation of the Turkish position after the Russian plane was shot down, then moving to sow suspicion between Ankara and its NATO allies.

This policy succeeded to the point that Turkey had added the Russian S-400 missiles to its Atlantic arsenal, which aroused the concern of America and NATO countries.

Putin went even further when he gave Turkey the green light to eliminate the “Kurdish entity” along the Syrian side of the border.

The Kremlin master used the Syrian platform to say that Russia was no longer afflicted by the Soviet rubble. It is not a regional power surrounded by the Atlantic pawns. It is a major country that has regained its military, political, and diplomatic strength, despite the size of its economy, which is almost equal to that of Italy.

He used the platform to confirm that America is increasingly withdrawing from the region, and that Europe lacks the tools of the role even if it wants to assume it.

Syria was not Putin’s dream alone. It was also Erdogan’s. He established a relationship of cooperation and exchange with its president, whom he proudly called, “My friend Bashar.”

To attract neighboring Syria, Erdogan sent his former foreign minister, Ahmed Davutoglu, 50 times to Assad’s office. But with the outbreak of the “Arab Spring,” calculations changed. Erdogan opened the border to roving fighters to infiltrate into Syrian territory, so they rushed to it from all sides.

His need for victory in Syria augmented after the Egyptian army ousted the Brotherhood from their country.

It was not Iran alone that succeeded in saving the Syrian regime. Russia’s military intervention in September 2015 ended Erdogan’s dream.

In his vast palace, Erdogan receives a poisonous defeat. The bodies of the Turkish soldiers arrive, one after another. It is a painful blow that would not have happened, except with Russian interference or at least blessing.

He will not point the finger to Russia because he cannot withstand a confrontation with it.

He will go to accuse the Syrian army, but his statements revealed his belief that Russian honey was mixed with poison. He remembered that his forces were standing in front of Russia in Idlib, as well as in Libya.

Idlib’s inferno pushed about a million Syrians toward the Turkish border. The continuation of the battles heralds the escape of another million.

In parallel to the field revenge, which also hit members of the Lebanese Hezbollah, Erdogan threatened the European Continent with the refugee crisis, amid limited Atlantic solidarity and Donald Trump’s unwillingness to provide direct military support.

In an evening soaked in the blood of soldiers, Erdogan is surprised that the world overlooks Iran’s possession of the decision-making “in four Arab capitals”, while not recognizing Turkey’s right to a part of the Syrian pie.

Another scenario worries him. It is that one day he will leave his Turkish presidential palace, while Bashar Al-Assad will still be the master of his own.

Turkey rebelled against the game run by the Russian side. It restored something of the internationalization to the Syrian crisis. But exchanging blood-soaked messages will not lead to a direct military confrontation between the Turkish and Russian armies.

The two sides are obliged to reach a new agreement that Ankara wants clearer and more binding. Most probably, Turkey wants a long stay on Syrian soil.

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