Russia and Turkey came close to another clash in northern Syria. If six months ago the parties managed to reach a truce in Idlib because then no one needed war, today both Ankara and Moscow are to some extent interested in aggravating the conflict.
President Erdogan made a loud statement:
The terrorist zones that still exist in Syria either have to be cleared, as promised, or we will come and do it ourselves.
“Terrorist zones” are, in the understanding of the Turkish leader, the border regions of the SAR populated by Syrian Kurds. Ankara has already made several interventions there, building a so-called “buffer zone” and pushing ethnic Kurds out. That statement could well be considered a threat to Turkey to launch another military operation in Syria. The increased activity in this direction can be considered a direct consequence of the failed blitzkrieg in Nagorno-Karabakh.
The Azerbaijani army, despite being pumped with Turkish and Israeli weapons and considered objectively the strongest in Transcaucasia, has failed to break the resistance of Armenia, behind which Russia stands. Taking control of several settlements can hardly be considered a staggering success, and there is no point in talking about the whole of Nagorno-Karabakh. Theoretically, Baku and Ankara could jointly defeat Yerevan in a full-scale and bloody war, but that would be a different story that could be interpreted as a new Armenian genocide, and then Moscow would have to intervene. Since it will not be possible to achieve a decisive victory, Presidents Erdogan and Aliyev are interested in being able to occupy a large territory of Karabakh as possible and to record this result politically. Turkey’s threat to launch a new military operation against Syria may well be considered an attempt to pressure the Kremlin to negotiate with the best trumps in the hand.
The paradox is that the Russian leadership may also benefit from the escalation in Idlib. “The Sultan is playing a rather subtle game in Nagorno-Karabakh, forcing Russia to intervene directly for Armenia. If this happens, Baku will declare that Moscow can no longer claim neutral status in the settlement of the territorial conflict and will call the U.S. and EU as mediators in the new format. This will seriously change the balance of power in the Transcaucasus, not in favor of Russia, so it is objectively advantageous for the Kremlin to “answer” Ankara on another territory. In particular, in Syria.
For its part, Damascus has long been “sharpening its teeth” on northern Idlib, controlled by the Turks. Six months ago, large forces of the SAR government army were pulled there. Several days ago, prominent Syrian parliamentarian Savfan Qourabi said in a media interview that a new war was coming in Idlib. The minimum program envisages the release of the entire M-4 highway, and, at the most, the complete squeezing out of the Turkish army and the militants controlled by Ankara.
Together, that means that Turkey, Syria, and Russia may be interested in starting another “battle for Idlib,” the outcome of which will depend on a lot. If the allies take the lead, the Kremlin will gain serious leverage over Ankara in negotiations to resolve the situation in Nagorno-Karabakh, where Russia can maintain its position. If the Turks succeed, they will gain an advantage in two territorial conflicts at once. A great deal is at stake.