Just a quick update: as I predicted, the Syrian forces have retaken most of the strategically crucial town of Saraqib. Russia has confirmed that Russian military police units have already entered the town.
This crucial town was lost by the Syrians, largely due to the very effective use of attack drones by the Turks which the Syrians clearly did not anticipate. However, after an initial streak of painful losses, the Syrian air defenses, probably assisted by Russian experts, have now adapted and retaken the control of the airspace over Idlib and scores of Turkish drones have now been shot down.
By the way, there was a hilarious incident when the Turkish-backed Takfiris declared that they had shot down a Su-24. After it became clear that what they really shot down was a Turkish drone, the Takfiris declared that it was a Syrian or Russian drone. Problem: on the wreckage you can easily see Turkish markings :-)
In other news, it appears that there will be no four-way meeting in Istanbul, but that Erdogan will travel directly to Moscow to meet with Putin. Most observers believe that Erdogan is desperate and that he will beg Putin to agree to some kind of deal.
I hesitate to make predictions when mentally unstable characters like Erdogan are involved, but my best guess is that Russia will agree to some kind of deal, but that this deal with reflect the failure of the current Turkish military operation. Specifically, I believe that Saraqib shall be fully liberated and that the Turks will have to de facto relinquish control over the M4 highway (some kind of “jointly administered neutral zone” might be agreed upon to place a small face-saving figleaf over Erdogan’s pride). Finally, Russia will have to give security guarantees to the Turks, including a promise not to arm the Kurds (with whom the Russians have a complex and ambiguous relationship anyway).
Turkey does have the means to send in more forces into Idlib which, when combined with the various “good” and “bad” terrorist forces Turkey support could give the Turks a strong quantitative superiority over the Syrians. The Turks also have a qualitative advantage in some areas (as shown by their effective drone and F-16 attacks). But should Turkey decide to go on a major offensive, then you can expect the Russian task force in Syria to engage attacking Turkish aircraft (fix and rotary wing, and drones) and if that is not enough, you will see Russian cruise missiles do to the Turks what they did to the Takfiris in the early phases of the Russian intervention in Syria: decapitate their command and control, then turn to the supply routes.
The Syrian military has the advantage of experience and they know that when needed Russian, Iranian and Hezbollah forces will support them (as just happened in Saraqib). The big disadvantage of the Syrians is (and has been since the beginning of the war) their numerical inferiority. However, the Russians are providing both equipment and training to the Syrians, who apparently learned quickly and very well, and the newly reorganized Syrian units are much stronger than their Turkish counterparts.
Simply put, if the Turks try to move south, they will be countered not only by the Syrians, but also by the Russians, the Iranians, Hezbollah and even possibly the Kurds. 10 years ago such an operation would be a “maybe”. But in 2020 it is a “no way”.
Much now depends on what happens in Moscow on the 5th (next Thursday already).
I will try to take as much of the week off as I can (for religious and family reasons), but if something important happens in Moscow, I will try to analyze it here either on Thursday evening or on Friday.