Paul Schmutz Schaller for The Saker Blog
During the last days, we saw dramatic changes in the Syrian situation. For the fourth time in the last years, Turkey invaded Syria. But the actual invasion is quite different since it is directly targeted against the Syrian army. This was confirmed, on March 1, by the Turkish defense minister and, on March 2, by Erdogan.
The Turkish aggression is carried out by thousands of troops, by thousands of military vehicles, and by air forces, including a significant number of armed drones. Concerning the concrete situation on the ground, there are different narratives. Apparently, on February 27, over thirty of invading Turkish military personnel were killed by a strike coming from Syria, Russia, or both; these Turkish military personnel were mixed with terrorist forces and therefore difficult to discern. Subsequently, there was obviously some confusion among the Syrian side and its allies, which allowed the Turkish army to make some important casualties.
In the last weeks, the Syrian Army had made big progresses against he terrorists around Idleb. The latter were on the brink of complete collapse. Turkey did not want to accept their defeat and this was the reason for the Turkish aggression. It is certainly true that Turkey was an ally of the terrorist forces in Syria during the whole war. But this time, the Turkish army fights directly together with the terrorists against the Syrian army. This has created a new situation, even if it is not yet a full-scale war; for example, some of the so-called Turkish „observation posts“ are surrounded by the Syrian army, but were not attacked.
The Syrian army is quickly adapting to the new situation. In particular, on March 2, the crucial city Saraqeb (on the junction of the two highways M4 and M5) could be recaptured from the Turkish and terrorist forces. The Syrians have declared a no-fly-zone over the region (Russian planes being the unique exception) and they are bringing more air defense systems to the front, in order to confront the Turkish air attacks. It also seems that the Syrian army has decided to postpone the liberation of the M4 between Saraqeb and Lattakia in order to concentrate on the more essential M5 between Damascus and Aleppo.
Hezbollah has lost some fighters by the Turkish aggression. On March 1, a massive funeral with thousands of people was hold in Beirut. On February 29, for the first time, the Iranian Advisory Center in Syria published a statement, warning the Turkish side of „the great risks of continuing the aggression against Syria“. We can conclude that these close allies of the Syrian army also adjust their position, closely monitoring the new developments.
Since Russia decided in 2015, on the request of the Syrian government, to actively support the Syrian army, it was always clear that the aim was the fight against terrorism. There is no doubt that Russia will continue with these politics. On the other hand, with respect to the Turkish invasion, it is not to expect that Russia will militarily intervene directly. Of course, Russia will defend the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Syria, but merely on the political and diplomatic level. However, there will be some major grey zone since the fight against terrorism cannot simply be distinguished from the fight against the Turkish invaders.
Very probably, the planned meeting (March 5) between Putin and Erdogan in Moscow will not resolve the problem of the Turkish invasion. One may expect that Putin will put some red lines in order to avoid a full-scale war between Syria and Turkey. Moreover, he will insist that the Syrian side is the just side. But Russia cannot handle the Turkish aggression. This is a problem between Turkey on the one hand and Syria, together with her regional allies, on the other hand. China will have a similar position. There will be diplomatic, economical, and some political support for Syria from China, but not much more, at least not openly.
I think that it is completely wrong to criticize Russia or China for these positions. They are not the masters of an alternative world. They cannot dictate a political agenda. They have neither the strength nor the intention of doing so. No country should expect that its problems will be solved by China and/or Russia. It is also wrong to see Putin as the one big infallible chess player who holds the reins. As leader of his country he has his point of view just as the leaders of the other players have their point of view. Nobody is in the possession of the absolute truth. However, the history of Russia and China shows that these countries are loyal to her allies and do not exchange them like clothes. As permanent members of the Security Council they will defend the interests of Syria. But they will continue to have as good as possible relations with USA, Israel, Saudi Arabia, and Turkey.
China and Russia are strong and influential countries, but the creation of a post-Western world needs quite a few other countries. Militarily speaking, the current front line between the Western empires and the new world is in the Middle East (West Asia). On the one hand, we have the aggressive countries USA, Israel, Saudi Arabia, Turkey. The other side is represented by Iran, Syria, Hezbollah, and Ansarullah (Yemen). One may add some forces in Iraq. At present, these are the regions were the sharpest fights took place. The impulses and the directives for these forces do not come from Russia nor from China. They come from the Middle East herself.
Iran, Syria, Hezbollah, and Ansarullah all have their proper strength, experience, autonomy, and leadership. Each one has achieved great successes against mighty enemies. Of course, they collaborate and there is much mutual support. The victories of each are also the victories of all. With the Turkish invasion in Syria, they are confronted with a new task. But Turkey is not as strong as it seems. Politically, the country is divided and Erdogan has not at all the support of the whole people for his invasion. His supporters are merely ultra-nationalists and fascists. Moreover, his aggressive politics in the region (Syria, Iraq, Libya, Cyprus, Greece) has not produced many friends. His politics seem to be utterly adventurous. And militarily speaking, Syria, Hezbollah, and Iran are experimented opponents. I am very confident that Erdogan will suffer a shameful defeat. The Syrian nation and people have already showed that they are able of immense sacrifices, that they are heroic fighters and great patriots.
The reactions on Soleimani’s assassination have changed the Middle East. Erdogan will not be able to stop this movement. His government has chosen the wrong side. The „new“ Middle East is modifying the relations with all other countries. The world should get used to a new Middle East: more autonomous, more self-confident, stronger. Which is very valuable for the whole planet.