The tussle between Turkey and allied Syrian rebels and Russian-backed Syrian government forces could not be brought to end even after all possible diplomacy efforts.
According to the Syrian civil defense group, Russian airstrikes in Idlib have claimed 16 civilian lives and the Turkish Defence Ministry reported that 184 Syrian government force members were killed in the last 24 hours. Turkey said it has destroyed 3 Syrian planes and has destroyed hundreds of vehicles and equipment killing more than 3,000 soldiers since the operation was launched on February 27. United Nations has called this the worst humanitarian crisis as one million people have fled fighting in Idlib after the Syrian government launched a military assault.
In the past week, Russia-backed Syrian army launched an air attack that killed 33 opponent soldiers; Turkey retaliated with a military operation. The meeting of 2 leaders in Moscow is more crucial as it is a ground for recovering a deteriorating relationship between two economic partners. Before the meet, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said that he expects to achieve a ceasefire after the talks with Vladimir Putin. Russia will try and maintain its balance between sparing Turkey and supporting Syria in the meet.
Putin had first turned down the meeting with Erdogan in January 2020. In February, Turkey had announced a four-way meeting on March 5 with France’s Emmanuel Macron, Germany’s Angela Merkel and Vladimir Putin but after 5 days of the announcement, Moscow stated that Putin had ‘other plans’ for March 5. Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov has hoped that some new agreements will be found in the Sochi framework after this meeting.
The 2018 Sochi Agreement
A ‘de-escalation zone’ with 12 observation towers around Idlib was created which did not prove to be much effective and it did not make any progress over the years. The Russian military accused Turkey of violating international law by sending troops into Idlib to make up a mechanized division. Turkey accused Russia of breaching the ceasefire agreed in 2018 numerous times.
If a solution is not reached at this point the Syrian crisis would get complicated and also harm the economic projects which Russia has invested in Turkey and undertaken projects which include defense system deals and building the Akkuyu Nuclear Plant. Russia may leverage these to pressurize Turkey to negotiate.
Putin just before the meeting, expressed his regret to President Erdogan for loss of 34 Turkish troops in an airstrike, saying the Syrian army had not known of their location. Ahead of the Moscow talks, Idlib residents have reported heavy shelling by Turkish troops and airstrikes by Russian and Syrian forces.
Though Russia has denied targeting civilians, Turkey’s Anadolu news agency reported that the strikes hit civilians.
Syria and its Refugee Crisis
Turkey hosts nearly 3.6 million Syrian refugees and says it cannot absorb more. To extract more funding from Europe, Turkey says it would not abide by the 2016 deal in which it stopped migrants crossing into the European Union in return for billions of euros in aid.
The Turkish President in a warning to Europe said, “Europe must support Turkey’s political and humanitarian solutions in Syria if it wants to avoid a repeat of the 2015 migration crisis.” Thousands of migrants have gathered at the Turkish-Greek border since President Erdogan asked them to try to enter Europe which has lead to clashes with Greek police.
James Jeffrey, the U.S. special representative said, “while the United States supports Turkey, it still has very serious concerns over Ankara’s purchase of Russian S-400 missile defenses last year.”
International Affairs Expert Fyodor Lukyanov said, “Both sides are not linked by mutual interests or trust, but by the impossibility to achieve their goals without the other party’s cooperation.”