The sultan of Turkey has come to his realization: “Operation Spring Shield”, the sultan’s adventure in the Idlib, Syria, is harmful. Within days of embarking on the adventure – intrusion in the territory of Syria – he has made a “glorious” retreat.

His March 5 Moscow meeting, “uneasy, but productive talks”, has prompted the realization.

Since the mid-night of March 6, 2020, Turkey has promised to implement de-escalation measures in the war-torn Idlib province. All Syria observers were eagerly looking at the Moscow summit. To many, it was the last chance to avoid a full-blown war between Turkey and Syria, and eventually, involvement of other big powers in the conflict. However, the broader perspective was not conducive for a full-blown war. The Empire was searching niche to exploit the situation.

Background of the retreat

Vladimir Putin, the Russian President, and Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the Turkish President, announced at a press conference in Moscow a ceasefire in Idlib. They have agreed to de-escalate the Syrian-Turkish conflict.

The announcement followed hours-long talks between the two presidents. First, it was an one-to-one talk, which was joined, hours later, by delegates from the two countries.

According to the understanding, a six-kilometer-wide security corridor is to be established in the area, with the militaries of the two countries given a week to fix up details. Russian and Turkish troops will also be carrying out joint patrol missions along Idlib’s M-4 highway.

The document the sultan signed underlines that Turkey remains committed to maintaining the territorial integrity and sovereignty of Syria. It’s victory for Syria – a foe bent to slice away a part of Syria is recognizing Syria’s territorial integrity and sovereignty.

Erdogan agreed with Putin that the conflict in Syria has no military solution, and that it was up to the Syrians alone to decide the fate of their country. It’s also a victory for Al Assad – a foe arming a band to overthrow Assad is now bending to the Syrian people: The people, no external power, no external intervention, to decide their country’s fate.

The Turkish sultan came to Moscow following bloody confrontations between Turkish and Syrian forces in the Idlib region.

Russia was strongly critical of the Turkish adventure. Moscow accused Ankara of shielding Al-Qaeda affiliated forces in the region.

Turkey pledged in an agreement with Russia in 2018 that Turkey would separate terrorist elements from the so-called “moderate rebels” occupying Idlib. Moscow accuses Turkey: Ankara has not honored the commitment. Sergei Lavrov, Russian Foreign Minister, complained earlier that Ankara has failed to fulfill some of its commitments under the 2018 Russian-Turkish memorandum on a demilitarized zone in Idlib, and separating the terrorists from the “moderate opposition”.

Following the summit, the Turkish President had to say: the Moscow-Ankara relationships including in defense and trade are at “peak” levels. He had to say: The two states are ready to move forward. The Empire feels frustrated with the Erdogan-speak.

A loss of dozens of Turkish troops in a Syrian airstrike angered Erdogan. Alternatively, he got the “rationale” to turn furious. An angry Erdogan deployed thousands of soldiers and many tanks and drones to the area. The Turkish military declared: All Syrian military assets are legitimate targets.

Since then, the Turkish military made assaults on the Syrian Army. The Syrian side sustained losses, with actual numbers unknown. Syria was playing with time.

Putin reminded Erdogan: The Turkish soldiers were embedded with the armed gang fighting the Syrian army.

Erdogan has now agreed to change the status of his military adventure. From now on, Turkey will simply be monitoring the ceasefire, which has been planned. The observation posts Turkey has established will “only monitor the ceasefire regime’s implementation, but not to control the field” said Erdogan.

The Russian Defense Ministry noted that Turkish soldiers were not supposed to be in the area, which was targeted by the Syrian Army in response to attacks by terrorists. Putin later stated that no one, including the Syrians, were aware that Turkish troops were stationed there with the armed band.

Empire’s ammunition

The Empire tried to regain space slipping out of its grip in the backdrop of this increased conflict – a reality of the changing battle lines in Syria.

Mike Pompeo, US secretary of state, expressed the Empire’s plan: Assessing Turkey’s request for help in its operation in Idlib. “The Turkish government has asked us for a handful of things, we are evaluating all of those requests,” Pompeo told in a press briefing. But, all knew, supplying and operationalizing those arms is not a few days’ work; it require a few months.

However, he passed comment on the Moscow meeting: “Move back to the Sochi agreement back from 2018,” and “enter into a ceasefire in the region.”

Prior to the US secretary of state’s comment, two high-level State Department officials – Ambassador Kelly Craft and Ambassador James Jeffrey – rushed to Ankara, and met Turkish official there. They also visited the area controlled by the armed band.

The US officials were, according to Pompeo’s statement, “working to see how we can bring American and European resources to better mitigate this humanitarian crisis on the ground in Idlib and then the southern parts of Turkey.” Is Europe willing to enter into such venture? Probably, not.

Only on Wednesday, Erdogan said: Ankara had asked Washington for help with ammunition. The Turkish leader was making disconnected moves.

David Satterfield, the US ambassador to Turkey, told reporters that the US was considering providing Patriot air defense systems to Turkey.

But, Putin’s move made many tricky moves useless.

The Sultan’s condition

The sultan’s condition within his domain is not satisfactory.

Opposition to his external policies is getting powerful. His Syria policy has increased burden – refugees – on the Turkish people. The warm welcome days have already withered away from the Turkish population. The Turkish people are disgusted and tired with the burden. The burden is taking toll from the people. Opposition to the policy within Erdogan’s political party – AKP – is growing. Only days ago, the Turkish legislative assembly witnessed a fistfight between an Erdogan loyalist and an opposition member. Recent election results brought bad news for Erdogan. Opposition politics is gaining ground. He has lost a few of his allies. He has failed to cow the Kurdish aspiration. It’s not possible. The Kurdish politics has now gained more space. The same is with the politics of the progressive forces. The economic front isn’t bearing good fruits. His economy is now more reliant on Russia. Turkey’s old ally – US – has already rebuked Turkey on weapons issue: Procurement of missiles from Russia. Turkey’s EU dream – membership in the alliance – is now a far-dream. Moreover, there’s the gas pipeline issue.

Immediately after the Syrian hit – loss of dozens of Turkish soldiers – Erdogan sought NATO’s help. He, probably, expected that NATO would extend its military arm. But, NATO just sat idle. The military alliance, seemingly an ally, issued only a condemnation of the Syrian hit.

After NATO’s inaction, Erdogan tried to play with the migrants: Push thousands of helpless persons to the EU. But, EU was adamant to foil the blackmail.

His Libya policy is also facing opposition. It’s from Greece. Earlier, his Egypt policy brought no gain to him. His stationing of a few hundreds of troops in a Gulf sheikhdom was useless.

Now, where to go, what to do? Planning an adventure, in Idlib, with this backdrop is a foolish exercise, not a well-composed concept, only a decaying sultan can plan.

The situation is not assuring for the Sultan. Putin gave Erdogan a face-saving exit path. The Idlib adventure, thus, turned into a confirmation of a dead dream of a failing sultan.

Farooque Chowdhury writes from Dhaka.


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