RDuring a visit by Syrian ruler Bashar al-Assad to the Kremlin, the President of the United States, Vladimir Putin, criticized the presence of “foreign armed forces” in “certain areas of the country without your permission”. On Monday evening, Putin was referring to the Turkish military, which controls areas in northwest Syria, but avoided attacking the government in Ankara by name. Attempts by the armed forces of the Assad regime to retake the territories with the participation of the Russian air force had been thwarted several times by the Russian-Turkish ceasefire.
After 33 Turkish soldiers were killed in Russian attacks in February of last year, Russia and Turkey agreed on a ceasefire on March 5, 2020. Since September 1st, however, Russian fighter planes have been flying over the region daily and bombing rebel positions. Many residents are fleeing closer to the Turkish border.
Young terrorist group confesses to attack
Representatives of the rebels, which are led by the Islamist alliance Haiat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS), accuse the Turkish army of watching the bombing without doing anything. Turkish observers are convinced that Russia is not aiming for a military solution for the north-west Syrian city of Idlib, but a political one. Most of Idlib’s two million people are internally displaced from other parts of Syria. The Turkish army protects them from an attack by the Assad regime.
Last weekend, the Turkish Defense Minister Hulusi Akar visited the border with Syria to get an idea of the situation in the neighboring country. Three Turkish soldiers were also killed in an attack last Saturday in the north-west Syrian city of Idlib. The young terrorist group Ansar Abu Bakr al-Siddiq claimed responsibility for the attack. It calls for a fight against the Syrian regime and the Russian troops, but also against the Turkish presence and even against HTS.
The new terror brigade is striving for an even more radical Islamic state than the HTS alliance. To support this politically, the largest tribes formed a Shura council on August 28th. Most HTS fighters belong to a tribe. The tribes, in turn, seek military protection from the alliance.
Moscow gives Assad apparent legitimacy
According to Putin, the Assad regime controls 90 percent of Syrian territory. While Moscow and Ankara have agreed on a military presence of Turkey in Idlib, there is no international support for the Turkish occupation of Afrin, Tal Abyad and Ras al-Ain. American soldiers are stationed in the Kurdish self-government zone in northeast Syria.
Assad thanked Putin, whose military intervention in 2015 made a decisive contribution to averting an end to his regime, and criticized the international sanctions against Syria. Russia’s president visited the Russian troops in Syria in early 2020 and received expressions of thanks from Assad in Damascus. In November 2020, both spoke on a video link.
The Syrian ruler was already a guest in the Kremlin and Sochi after the start of the Russian military operation in Syria. At the international level, Russia is trying to portray Assad as the legitimate president of Syria; Putin congratulated the ruler on a “very good result of the presidential elections”.