Ever since President Erdogan sent in 10,000 troops to forestall the annihilation of the Syrian opposition in north-western Syria, he has faced the very present danger that his men would come into direct collision with Russia, Assad’s protector.
Erdogan is now paying the price for sidling up to the Russians, placing orders for military aircraft and air defence, while counting on Moscow playing fair and sticking to the spirit and letter of agreements that had effectively safeguarded Turkish interests in the region. This alignment towards Moscow cost something: the United States retaliated against its NATO ally by refusing to sell its own fighter aircraft and its own air defence systems to Ankara.
But since the Russians have command of the air in Syria and refused to permit Turkish air power over the border, the Turks have no sure means of protecting their men on the ground. And since they were never consulted any more than other NATO members, the Americans under President Trump are unlikely to help them.
Previous talks at ministerial level got nowhere. Erdogan has now suggested that he could meet with President Putin on 5 March. But the Kremlin’s spokesman says Putin “has other plans” for that day. Meanwhile the Turks are making use of what anti-aircraft systems they have to target Syrian fighter bombers that are not easy to distinguish from their Russian counterpart. And Moscow sees the request for more talks as merely cover for continuing Turkey’s military intervention.
This is a lethal game of chicken. Erdogan cannot afford conflict with Russia, yet if he has to back off from his grand ambitions, the impact at home – given his forward policy is all he has to boast about – could be disastrous. On the other hand, Turkey’s alienation of its allies, particularly the United States, is an asset to the Russians. If the Turks turn against Moscow and return gratefully to the NATO fold, Russia has less to play with in securing Assad.
Komsomolskaya pravda has good coverage under the alarmist title: “The Turks in Syria are targeting our planes”:
Also, Nezavisimaya gazeta: