The most serious loss of life since Turkish forces invaded Syria could spark a political firestorm in Turkey, while Erdogan attempts to keep alliance with Russia from crashing
Fifty Turkish soldiers were killed in February in clashes with Syrian forces in Idlib. Of these, 36 were killed on Thursday in a Russian air force strike and Syrian government shelling. It seems that the Turkish-Russian alliance running the campaign in northern Syria is about to come crashing down.
Turkey has directly accused Russia of responsibility for the killing of its soldiers. Russia, for its part, made clear that the Turkish forces had no reason to be there and had not coordinated their presence. Turkey vehemently denied this, claiming the Russians knew they were there.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has previously threatened that if any more Turkish soldiers are hurt, Turkey “will hit the regime forces everywhere from today, regardless of Idlib’s borders.” Surely enough, on Sunday Syria said that
On Thursday he had to re-examine his policy toward Russia, out of an understanding that a direct clash with Russian forces is far more dangerous. The urgent phone call between the Turkish president and his Russian counterpart did lead to a joint statement that both sides would calm tensions and reduce military activity, but no meeting has yet been set between the two leaders, a meeting that Erdogan has sought since the clashes in Idlib began.
On Sunday, Erdogan asked Russia to step aside and allow Turkey to engage Syrian forces directly. Also Sunday, Turkey shot down two Syrian warplanes and struck Aleppo airport, as Syrian forces downed three Turkish drones, quickly escalating tensions.
The diplomatic backing Erdogan is receiving from Washington is not enough for him. As a member of NATO, Turkey has demanded that the United States equip it with Patriot missiles. At the same time, Erdogan has demanded that Putin allow him to wage the campaign against Syrian President Bashar Assad’s forces without interference.