Recep Tayyip Erdoğan (REUTERS/Christian Hartmann)
By Scott Ritter
This week’s meeting between Presidents Putin and Erdogan in Moscow was cast as preventing a war between Russia and Turkey in Syria. War, however, was never on the horizon. Putin called Erdogan’s bluff, and the Turk folded.
Over the course of a week, from February 27 through March 5, Syria’s Idlib province transitioned from being ground zero for a war between the Syrian army and allied forces, and heavily armed groups opposed to the rule of Syrian President Bashar Assad, into a geopolitical powder keg that threatened to pull the Turkish and Russian militaries into direct conflict with one another. On March 1, Turkey, following up on threats previously made by President Erdogan to drive the Syrian Army and its allies back to the line of demarcation set forth in the original Sochi Agreement, unleashed a major offensive, dubbed “Operation Spring Shield” and involving thousands of Turkish troops fighting alongside anti-Assad formations.
This operation soon fizzled; not only was the Turkish advance halted in its tracks, but the Syrian Army, supported by Hezbollah and pro-Iranian militias, were able to recapture much of the territory lost in the earlier fighting. Faced with the choice of either escalating further and directly confronting Russian forces, or facing defeat on the battlefield, Erdogan instead flew to Moscow.
The new additional protocol, which entered into effect at midnight Moscow time on Friday, March 6, represents a strategic defeat for Erdogan and the Turkish military which, as NATO’s second-largest standing armed force, equipped and trained to the highest Western standards, should have been more than a match for a rag-tag Syrian Army, worn down after nine years of non-stop combat. The Syrian armed forces, together with its allies, however, fought the Turks to a standstill. Moreover, the anti-Assad fighters that had been trained and equipped by the Turks proved to be a disappointment on the battlefield.
One of the major reasons behind the Turkish failure was the fact that Russia controlled the air space over Idlib, denying the Turks the use of aircraft, helicopters and (except for a single 48-hour period) drones, while apparently using their own aircraft, together with the Syrian Air Force, to pummel both the Turkish military and their allied anti-Assad forces (though neither side has officially confirmed the Russians bombing the Turks – that would be a disaster for the talks). In the end, the anti-Assad fighters were compelled to take shelter within so-called ‘Observation posts’– heavily fortified Turkish garrisons established under the Sochi Agreement, intermingling with Turkish forces to protect themselves from further attack. Operation Spring Shield turned out to be a resounding defeat for the Turks and their allies.
Full article at RT International