Fighting between Turkish soldiers and the Syrian army, which Russia has been supporting for five years, would be the worst possible development, said Kremlin Spokesperson Dmitry Peskov, commenting on a statement by Turkish President Recep Erdogan, who warned that an operation in Syria’s Idlib province will begin in the next few days unless Assad and Moscow withdraw their forces.
“If we’re talking about an operation against terrorist groups in Idlib, then, without a doubt, it will be activity in keeping with the Sochi agreements, because neutralizing these terrorist groups, which now possess quite powerful weaponry, equipment and ammunition infrastructure, is Turkey’s obligation,” Peskov remarked.
“If we’re talking about an operation against the legitimate Syrian armed forces, it will definitely be the worst possible development,” Interfax cites him as saying.
Last week Turkey began deploying an additional contingent of forces in Syria, including tanks and armored transports. According to the Anadolu news agency, the troops are concentrated in Turkey’s Hatay province, which borders with Syria. Technicians, special forces, and trucks with munitions have been transferred to the region.
On February 10, Turkey carried out an extensive attack against the Syrian government army, and claimed to have “eliminated” 100 soldiers, three tanks, two firing points and a helicopter. A full-fledged operation in Idlib aiming to halt Assad’s offensive “could begin at any moment”, warned Erdogan on Wednesday. According to the UN, Assad’s offensive has already forced 700,000 Syrians to leave their homes and head for Turkey.
“The [Assad] regime has only a few days left to stop its aggression in Idlib and withdraw to the territories stipulated in the Sochi Agreement. This is our final warning,” Erdogan said, adding that “Turkey will not leave Idlib to the Assad regime and his supporters”.
In December, Erdogan accused Russia of breaching the agreements regarding Syria, thereby sending a wave of refugees to Turkey which it cannot accommodate. The temporary refugee camps are overflowing, housing nearly 4 million people.
Four rounds of negotiations with Russian officials – two in Turkey last week and another two on Monday and Tuesday in Moscow – have come to nothing.
“We did not accept the map [of de-escalation zone borders] proposed by Russia,” said Turkish Presidential Spokesperson Ibrahim Kalin on Tuesday.
Kalin added that Turkey is sending armored vehicles and troops to northern Syria “to protect civilians”. “Our goals are not oil or to capture territory. We only want to achieve stability in the region. The waves of refugees are gradually putting pressure on Turkey,” he explained.