Russia has many cross-business interests with Turkey and also many geopolitical differences. Therefore, no direct confrontation corresponds. But there are subtleties: for example, a massive bombardment of Turkish-supported militias in Syria.
Burial of the 80 Proturkish Syrian rebels who died after Russia’s attack on their training camp in Idlib.
Russia and Turkey are heavily involved in some of the biggest ongoing conflicts, including Libya, the Caucasus, and Syria. In none of these territories do their interests coincide, but rather they support sides facing each other.
Neither in the Middle East nor in the Mediterranean do they come face to face. You have to take care of the forms.
But Russia was tasked with laying waste to Turkish-backed rebel fighters in northwestern Syria.
Idlib is a head city of a homonymous governorate.
Idlib is located 60 km from Aleppo.
Idlib contains the ancient city of Ebla, and was a supplier of soaps made with oil and cotton fabrics to Istanbul, when it was a colony of the Ottoman Empire (Turks).
Since 2017, the Tahrir Al-Sham (Al Qaeda) militia, with Turkish support, has remained in control of Idlib, defeating Ahrar al-Sham.
Tahrir Al-Sham means Organization for the Liberation of the Levant, often called the Nusra Front.
But in the region, since 2014 there is Faylaq Al-Sham (Legion of Sham), as opposed to the government of Bashar al-Asad as it is to the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (Isis).
The Legion of Sham was formed from 19 different groups, 3 some of which had been affiliated with the Syrian Muslim Brotherhood.
In 2015, along with other large Aleppo-based rebel groups, the Sham Legion established the joint Fatah Halab group, which received US BGM-71 TOW anti-tank missiles.
But then he got closer to Turkey.
In May 2018, together with 10 other rebel groups in northwestern Syria, the Legion organized the National Liberation Front. Then the Brigade of the Martyrs of Islam was also added.
In September 2018, Russia began bombing Idlib.
On 10/26/2020, Russian fighter jets attacked a Legion training ground near Kafr Takharim in Idlib governorate.
No fewer than 78 pro-Turkey combatants were killed in the attack, and no fewer than 100 wounded.
The director of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, Rami Abdel Rahman, called the attack the strongest attack since the beginning of the ceasefire.
With so much activity in the region, the Russians targeted the area of Jabal al-Dweila, a military training ground for Faylaq Al-Sham.
This “was not a Russian attack on the Syrian opposition, but a direct hit against Turkey and a message for Ankara,” Charles Lister, director of the US-based Middle East Institute, told Al Jazeera.
Turkish columnist Semih Idiz agreed that the timing of the Russian airstrike is “significant” because it coincides with days when Ankara is “showing its muscles” in the Middle East and the Caucasus.
“The Armenian-Azeri dispute is a particularly sensitive issue because it is happening in what Moscow believes is its backyard and sphere of influence,” Idiz told Al Jazeera.
But Idiz acknowledged Ankara’s inability to solve the problem of groups in Idlib that Moscow perceives as “radicals.”
Russia, a staunch ally of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, and Turkey had negotiated a fragile ceasefire in Idlib, which has been in place since March, but the Russians identified several skirmishes involving Turkey, just as it does in favor of Azerbaijan against Armenia, Russia’s military ally.
And something worse happened to watch out for: Moscow has expressed dismay at reports that Turkey has sent Syrian mercenaries to fight alongside Azerbaijani forces in Nagorno-Karabakh.
It is the same procedure that Turkey used in Libya, sending thousands of Syrian fighters to fight for the Government of National Accord recognized by the United Nations, against Russian-backed forces.
The Turkish-backed National Liberation Front alliance includes 11 factions of the Free Syrian Army (SLA), all supported by Ankara.
But it excludes Hay’et Tahrir al-Sham (HTS), a former al-Qaeda affiliate who currently controls large swaths of the province.
When Russia and Turkey signed the agreement in 2017, one of the main conditions set by Moscow was that Ankara should dissolve HTS.
This has not happened. Turkey has not eliminated the armed group because it cannot or does not want to.
Russia has used the presence of Tahrir al-Sham to attack Idlib.
“This latest attack is Russia’s way of saying that time is running out,” said Turkish columnist Semih Idiz, referring to the agreement between Russian President Vladimir Putin and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
Dareen Khalifa, a senior analyst at the International Crisis Group, agreed: “The deal is flawed as it is based on the premise that Turkey would hunt down some of the strongest rebel formations in the area.”
Until now, Russia attacked to keep adversaries away from the key M4 road in northern Syria, used by Turkish and Russian forces for joint patrols.
However, in recent months, joint patrols have stopped.
“Stopping these patrols is a clear indication that the ceasefire agreement … is gradually eroding, leaving only the military option on the table again,” Khalifa said.
Will Ankara let what happened without retaliation?
Idiz said Turkey may want to “retaliate” by attacking the forces of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, a Russian ally.
Following the Russian attack, Syrian opposition fighters fired hundreds of missiles and artillery shells at government posts in northwestern Syria.
The truth is that Russia has already sent a message. Another may occur shortly.