Recep Tayyip Erdogan's strategy in check at Idlib

A Turkish military convoy outside the village of Kafr Yahmul, north of Idlib, in northwest Syria, on February 28.
A Turkish military convoy outside the village of Kafr Yahmul, north of Idlib, in northwest Syria, on February 28. AHMAD AL-ATRASH / AFP

Cold with his Western allies, at odds with his new Russian partner, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, has never been so isolated on the international scene when his army, mired in Syria, faces deadly attacks of the Damascus regime, supported by the Russian air force.

Because it was indeed a Russian laser-guided bomb (of the KAB-1500L type carried by the Sukhoi SU-35 fighters), capable of penetrating to depths of 20 meters, which pulverized the building where Turkish soldiers had found refuge in Idlib, the last rebel pocket in northwestern Syria, causing Thursday, February 27, the death of thirty-three of them, the heaviest casualties suffered by the army in decades.

" New friends "

The precarious situation of the Turkish military in Idlib, where almost ten thousand soldiers have been deployed without air cover, Russia being the only mistress of the air, alone reveals the inconsistency of President Erdogan's foreign and security policy. It durably compromises the project of a strategic partnership with Moscow, much praised on the internal political scene, in Turkey, by the "Eurasianists", who have become, since the failed coup of 2016, the best allies of the leader of the State. She recalls the fragility of the Turkish position, one foot in NATO, one foot outside. At the height of a diplomatic crisis with the United States in 2018, Erdogan had indirectly threatened to leave the Alliance, assuring that Turkey was looking for " new friends ", an allusion to Russia.

Faced with the Russian firepower at Idlib, he is now seeking military support from his old partners, threatening Europe with a new migration crisis and calling on NATO for help. This is how he claims in Washington the installation of Patriot missiles, the acquisition of which he has sulked until now, for the benefit of the Russian anti-missiles S-400, chosen by Ankara despite their incompatibility with the NATO defense system.

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"Today, Turkey is capable of launching an operation to protect its national security without asking for the authorization of anyone", boasted Mr. Erdogan, in December 2019, on the sidelines of the summit marking the 70e anniversary of NATO in London. This sentence alone sums up the foreign policy vision of the Turkish head of state, ready to intervene militarily on all fronts.

Two months before the London summit, Turkey defied its traditional allies by sending troops to north-eastern Syria against the will of NATO. Two months later, Ankara deployed military equipment and personnel to Libya, including two thousand Syrian mercenaries, even though the United Nations called for an arms embargo to be respected.


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