Three days after meeting in Moscow the latest truce was announced by Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Russian president Vladimir Putin. It comes in the wake of weeks of fierce battles in provincial Idlib, that ended in the Syrian army taking control of newly liberated towns and villages spanning over 2000 square kilometers in rural Idlib and western Aleppo countryside.
Ceasefire Welcomed by Syria’s Army and Civilians
The ceasefire, which was largely welcomed by both Syrian military who need to catch a breath, and civilians who have had enough of the woes of war — its bloodshed and destruction — was widely seen as a humiliating defeat for the Turkish army and its proxy militias who lost hundreds of soldiers as well as hardcore fighters in the battles: some estimates put the figure into thousands when including mercenaries.
The deal was considered by many observers and politicians, including Turkish opposition parties, to be a political defeat for Erdogan who was forced to abandon his intransigent conditions and forsake his fiery threats to the Syrian leadership and army unless it pulled back to behind Turkish military outposts – now besieged by the Syrian army- and retreated to the position it was in before recent major advances in Idlib and Aleppo provinces.
The SAA kept its new gains under the current ceasefire deal, the strategically important M5 between Aleppo and the capital Damascus is now fully reopened, while joint Russian-Turkish patrols will control safe passage along the other key highway, the M4, which passes through mainly rebel-controlled areas of Idlib suburbs, with a safety net of 6 km on both the northern and southern sides of the road, blocked by anti-government groups for some 7 years now.
Moscow Deal: Prevents More Bloodshed, Secures Assad’s Recent Victories
Although the latest ceasefire has been holding, generally speaking, apart for some minor breaches here and there, there are reports that al Nusra Front terrorist group and other militias that have rejected the current truce, as it did with its predecessors, are regrouping under a new name, The Liberation Army, and planning to launch a major attack on SAA positions in rural Aleppo and Idlib. The truce deal excludes terrorist organizations that have been fighting to topple the Assad government for 9 years, and calls, among other things, for the preservation of Syria’s territorial integrity, combating and eliminating branded terrorist groups operating in Syria. Such groups, now mainly stationed in Idlib and its countryside, were once estimated to comprise hundreds of thousands of fighters, including at least 70,000 in Idlib itself.
Yesterday, the Syrian state-run TV channels screened footage from al-Nusra’s main HQ — and largest in Syria — retaken by the Syrian army and its allies in recent battles. The massive underground base expands under a large hill, contains the central command and control room, dormitories, large ammunition dumps along with all necessary and basic amenities including ventilation, electricity, communication and internet service and much more. The HQ, located in the village of Ainjara, Aleppo’s western countryside, was frequently used by the supreme leader of the terror group, Abu Muhammad al Jawlani and other Nusra senior commanders, all non-Syrian, in high-level meeting and video recordings and propaganda messages. His chair, used in the last such recording was still there, and was turned upside down by the Syrian TV crew as a sign of al Jawlani’s defeat at the hands of the Syrian army.
Ramifications Inside Turkey Shake Erdogan’s Resolve
“What a shame!”, Turkish GHP (People’s Republican Party) MP s shouted in Erdogan’s face, following the disgraceful performance of NATO’s second largest army — after the USA’s — in recent battles fought by the Turkish army in Idlib, in which hundreds of soldiers were killed, dozens of tanks, armored personnel carriers, artillery pieces along with at least 13 state-of-the-art drones as well as other military equipment were destroyed. Morale of captured Turkish soldiers and retreating army officers were as low as one can imagine after their very first direct confrontation with the Syrian army on the battlefield. Moreover, some Turkish soldiers of Syrian origin, including some from Hatay, (part of Iskenderun, which was a Syrian territory occupied by the Turks under a conspiracy with colonial France some eight decades ago) handed themselves over to the Syrian army and refused to fight against them.
Some NATO commentators went as far as claiming that Erdogan had accused his own officers of ‘treason’ and ordered some to be summarily executed following their humiliating defeat in the now iconic SAA battle of Saraqib, Idlib. The Turkish leader was so desperate to keep the strategic city straddling both the M 5 and M4 highways from Aleppo to Damascus and Latakia, before he headed to Moscow to meet with Putin. Erdogan’s last bargaining chip was taken away from him by the Syrian army’s elite 25th Division along with 1000 of Hezbollah’s top-notch fighters of Al Radwan Brigade. Together, they silently infiltrated Saraqib by nightfall, fully surprised both Turkish and proxy fighters in the large town, who found themselves face to face with attacking “ninjas.”
Battle for Saraqib, not ‘Black Cat’, Determined Erdogan’s Agenda in Moscow
Only four hours later, the triumphant Syrian and allied forces called the Russians, who could not believe what had happened in Saraqib on the eve of Erdogan’s trip to Moscow, and asked them to send Russian military patrols to the M5 straight away. The battle for Saraqib was detrimental for the agenda Erdogan wanted to discuss with Putin; the town must be liberated – for the second time in one week – at any cost, and it was. Some analysts compare it to the strategic liberation of al Kussair city, Homs in 2015, and that of Aleppo in 2016, which turned the tide irrevocably in favor of Assad’s army.
On his way back from the embarrassing Moscow summit and a closed-door six-hour marathon meeting with Putin, Erdogan answered a journalist on board his plane who asked him about what had exactly happened? “a ‘black cat’ had intervened between us, but thank God, we have resolved the issue,” Erdogan said. Asked whether he meant Israel? ” No, no a much bigger cat”, he exclaimed. An accompanying Turkish journalist later said that the general impression was that the “cat” Erdogan referred to was the USA, which would indicate that it was Washington that instructed him to escalate hostilities with the Syrian army.