Numerous Turkish soldiers were killed in Idlib by Syrian fire Feb. 27. Turkey has initiated retaliatory attacks and demands assistance, while Russia seems to evoke its default setting. At least 33 Turkish soldiers were killed, and 36 others injured according to reports. In response, Turkey will now utilize “ground and air forces” to attack “all known targets of the regime,” according to the Turkish government.

Turkey Asks NATO for Help Against Syrian Regime

Moreover, Turkey has requested assistance from NATO as well as the international community by utilizing the alliance’s Article 4, which states that any ally can ask for advice at any time if it believes “the integrity of the area, political independence or the security of either party is threatened.” NATO obliged and met on Friday to address the matter. As a result, NATO will consider strengthening Ankara’s air defenses in response. However, Turkey’s call for establishing a no-fly zone was not being discussed, the alliance stressed. A no-fly zone could lead to a confrontation with Russia’s air force.

Prior to the meeting’s conclusion, a spokesman for the Turkish government said that NATO must stand with Turkey. At the same time, he threatened to open the borders to Syrian refugees in the country towards Europe in an attempt to apply pressure on their European allies.

EU Foreign Policy Chief: Deescalation is a Priority

Meanwhile, EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell warned of a dramatic worsening of the conflict. The escalation needed to end immediately, he stated on Friday. According to Borrell there is a real risk of slipping into an open international military confrontation, and thus immediate deescalation was needed. The EU would consider all necessary measures to protect its security interests, Borrell continued.

Russia, Syria’s ally, has since responded to the death of the Turkish soldiers with accusations against Turkey. The Turkish defense units were in the “terrorist formations” battle orders and came under “fire on the Syrian armed forces,” the Ministry of Defense announced on Friday morning.

It particularly emphasized that the Russian Air Force — deployed alongside the forces of the Damascene regime – had not carried out the airstrikes that killed the Turkish soldiers. However, the Turkish side had not informed the Russians that Turkish soldiers were at the site of the airstrikes at the Baichoun settlement. The latter is the same explanation Russia’s military gave when Turkish soldiers had previously been killed in Idlib under similar circumstances.

Russia Defends Assad’s Airstrike on the Turkish Troops: a Mistake that Occurred While Attacking Terrorists in Area

Moreover, to justify its ally Bashar al-Assad’s airstrike, the Russian military said the “terrorists” had attempted a “large-scale attack on the positions of Syrian government forces.” Even if Assad’s associations with Russian support had advanced in Idlib in the past few weeks, there was talk of a “counteroffensive” in the Russian account.

Ankara rejected the Russian allegation on Friday. The Russians had known where the Turkish soldiers were located, and insurgent fighters were not nearby according to Turkey. Moscow will have to accept the intensification of the conflict with President Recep Erdogan over the regime’s offensive. Nonetheless, significant conflict between Moscow and Ankara still seems inconceivable at this time because of other mutual interests.

Idlib is the last major rebel area in the civil war country. The situation there has recently escalated. Turkey supports Islamist rebels in the conflict. It had reached an agreement with Russia as the Syrian government’s protecting power to set up a deescalation zone in Idlib and set up observation posts there under a ceasefire. In recent weeks, however, the Syrian military has continued to advance in the area with Russian support.

Erdogan has repeatedly threatened military operations if the Syrian military in Idlib does not withdraw by the end of February.

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