Turkey-Russia Tensions Spike as Russia moves into Northern Syria

By Juan Cole | (Informed Comment) | – –

Russian air strikes in Syria are coming closer and closer to the Turkish border in Latakia in the northwest, and there are rumors that Russia is looking at establishing an airbase at Qamishli in the largely Kurdish northeast of Syria. Turkey risks having Russia as a neighbor all along the Syrian border to Turkey’s south, as well as beyond the Black Sea to its north.

Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan said at a news conference, “We have said this from the beginning: we won’t tolerate such formations (in northern Syria) along the area stretching from the Iraqi border up to the Mediterranean. . .”

Over on the Mediterranean side, Russian air strikes have enabled the Syrian Arab Army of the Bashar al-Assad regime to move back into northern Latakia Province, taking a large number of villages in the far northern areas of Turkmen Mountain and Kurd Mountain.

The strategic city of Rabia was surrounded on three sides by government troops.

Syrian government sources maintained that 150 rebels had been killed in the fighting, including guerrillas of the Nusra Front, while others had fled across the border into Turkey.

It was to protect the anti-regime Turkmen fighters of Turkmen mountain that last fall the Turkish air force shot a Russian fighter jet out of the air.

The SAA has also retaken Salma in the east of Latakia Province. Salma had been in rebel hands for 3 years and is in higher land and so was a useful way for the rebels to dominate the surrounding area.

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Russian strategy since last October has been to intervene from the air to give courage to the Syrian troops and allow them to push back the rebels from the key port city of Latakia in the province of the same name. The al-Qaeda-allied Army of Conquest (Jaysh al-Fateh) has the neighboring province of Idlib to the east and has a key position in Jisr al-Shughour, a town in the highlands overlooking Latakia from which an assault could easily be launched. One of the Army of Conquest coalition partners is the Nusra Front or the Support Front, the chief al-Qaeda franchise in Syria, which reports to Ayman al-Zawahiri (one of the masterminds of the 9/11 attacks on the US).

The Nusra Front has been flooding fighters also into northern, mountainous Latakia, where Turkmen villages are split, with about half in the ranks of the anti-regime rebels. Turkmen speak a language close to Turkish and came into the Arab world as nomads from the 8th century forward, originating in Inner Asia.

The Syrian Arab Army on Friday made substantial advances in Turkmen Mountain in the far north of Latakia Province near the Turkish border, taking numerous villages and expelling al-Qaeda and allied fighters. This drive to reestablish regime control so close to the Turkish border has alarmed the Turkish government, which had been arming and supporting the rebellious Turkmen.

As of Friday, Turkey’s proxies seemed to be losing very badly, and it is unclear what options Ankara now has except Erdogan’s bluster.

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Related video:

Press TV: “”Syrian troops advancing in Latakia province”

Posted in Featured,Syria | 8 Responses | Print |

8 Responses

  1. “It was to protect the anti-regime Turkmen fighters of Turkmen mountain that last fall the Turkish air force shot a Russian fighter jet out of the air”

    You lost me right there. It was to drag NATO into posturing and intimidating Russia to cover for Erdogan’s now threatened illicit imports of Islamic State oil:

    link to ronaldthomaswest.com

    ^

  2. Juan: can you prove your statement: “It was to protect the anti-regime Turkmen fighters of Turkmen mountain that last fall the Turkish air force shot a Russian fighter jet out of the air.” I have read that they, Turkey had prepared this attack for weeks. How can then one plane down make a difference? I just don’t get it

  3. It seems that you are keen to stress whenever possible that al-Qaeda affiliated Nusra Front is a part of the rebel Army of Conquest coalition.

    However, I find the way you cast such an allegiance as if al-Nusra is the de facto leader of such a coalition or as if the rest of the rebel groups of the coalition are in conformity with al-Qaeda strategically or ideologically = misleading.

    Such a presentation downplays the clear ideological and practical differences of the member rebel groups as well as the tactical and pragmatic nature of such a coalition (prioritizing the short term goal of defeating a criminal and inhumane regime over long term ideological differences) as indicated by the disagreements between the coalition and al-Nusra which led al-Nusra in one instance to threaten to withdraw from the coalition.

    I find it unfair and impractical to impose our ideological differences in absolute terms on groups’ alliances in such war settings. I.e. You cannot ally with al-Qaeda in any setting and for any purpose, tactical or otherwise, or else you are terrorists like them. :/

    • Nusra led the forces into Idlib city; and the reason given by the other Salafis for actively *allying* with them (this is not just de facto) is that they are so effective and without them they can’t win. Sorry, but an alliance with a group reporting to Ayman al-Zawahiri, who almost managed to kill two of my cousins, is something up with which I will not put. We saw this movie with the Taliban in Afghanistan and it ended up with us getting blown up.

  4. Where on the Turkey-Syria border are the fundamentalist fighters crossing into Syria? It’s the threat that the Syrian Arab Army and the Russians will stop the movement of the foreign fighters, their supplies and oil booty across that border that has Erdogan upset. It says a lot about US policy that the Obama administration hasn’t pressured Turkey to fill in the pores.

  5. Facts are: 1/The saudi-qatari-CIA-turkish led islamic terrorists are losing the war in Syria thanks to the russian, iranian and Hezbollah intervention. 2/”emir” Erdogan can bark all he wants but he cannot change the military situation on the ground, without the risk of facing a proper russian response.

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