Whereas the mainstream western and Arab media have been claiming a ‘serious rift’ between Russia and Turkey over the death of Turkish soldiers in a Syrian offensive in Idlib, this is far from the case. While there is no gainsaying that Russian and Syrian interests do not always converge fully and that there are some contentious areas, this then is also quite equally true of Turkey’s relations with the US/NATO as well. Therefore, expecting Turkey to take a full wheel U-turn to the US/NATO as a result of the so-called ‘serious rift’ with Moscow/Damascus is not only an extremely unlikely event to happen but also geo-politically an unrealistic assumption; for, the major disagreement, as it stands, does not exit between Russia and Turkey per se, it exists, if at all, between an increasingly assertive Syrian army, ambitiously advancing to regain control of their country, and a Turkish a resolve to prevent the emergence of a ‘Kurdistan’ along its border with Syria.
Whereas both Syria and Turkey, as also Russia, aim to prevent the establishment of ‘Kurdistan’ along Syria-Turkey border, the disagreement remains over who will prevent this i.e., whether Turkey will do this through a direct military presence or the Syrian army through directly taking control of the territories.
It was this political disagreement that was at the heart of Putin’s visits to Damascus and Istanbul in the end of January 2020. As the reports suggest, the Russians had ‘strongly advised’ the Syrian army to halt their offensive and allow Turkey to relocate its troops. Assad, while he agreed to halt the offensive, did not want to break the momentum of battle ground victories. At the same, Moscow does not think that allowing al-Qaeda affiliate groups to continue to operate from Idlib and attack Syrian and Russian interests is going to work for them; hence, the Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov’s calculated response to the tensions arising out of the clashes between Turkey and Syria.
In particular, he stated:
“We don’t agree with this view [of Erdogan about attacking Idlib]. Russia is in full compliance with the Sochi agreements on the Idlib zone. At the same time, we regret to say that the situation is far from perfect”, adding further that “a large number of terrorists remain in the area and continue aggressive attacks on the Syrian army and Russia’s Hmeymim air base.