Turkey’s Erdogan vows retaliation if Idlib truce violated

Turkey and Russia are maintaining a fragile truce in Syria's Idlib, yet the Turkish president said his military may retaliate if its outposts are targeted.

al-monitor Russian President Vladimir Putin and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan attend a news conference following their talks in Moscow, Russia, March 5, 2020.  Photo by Pavel Golovkin/Pool via REUTERS.

Mar 11, 2020

Less than a week after Turkey and Russia agreed to a cease-fire in Syria’s Idlib province, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said his military reserves the right to retaliate should any of Turkey’s observation posts be targeted. During a speech to lawmakers March 11, Erdogan said Turkey was monitoring “small violations” of the fragile truce.

“Turkey will do more than mere retaliation if its observation posts in Idlib are targeted,” he told members of his Justice and Development Party (AKP) during a meeting in Ankara, according to state-run Anadolu Agency.

Erdogan called the security of Turkey’s 12 observation posts in Idlib, set up as part of a previous de-escalation agreement, a top priority. 

“We are closely monitoring the deployment of the [Bashar al-Assad] regime and allied militants near the cease-fire lines,” he said. 

In recent weeks, Turkey has stepped up its military presence in the northwestern enclave, inching closer to a direct confrontation with Russia. The two countries back rival sides of the war, with Turkey supporting some of the rebels trying to overthrow Assad, and Russia backing the regime.

Last week, Ankara and Moscow agreed to a cease-fire covering Idlib that would involve joint Turkish-Russian patrols and a newly established security corridor along the M4 highway. 

A Russian military delegation arrived in Ankara March 10 to hash out details of the new accord. Beginning March 15, Turkey will patrol north of the corridor and Russian forces will patrol the south. 

After nearly nine years of war, Idlib province is the last major swath of the country still in the hands of the opposition. In the past three months, the Russian-backed offensive in the northwest has displaced nearly 1 million people — the overwhelming majority women and children, according to the United Nations.

Turkey, which already hosts more than 3.5 million Syrian refugees, worries about the influx of displaced people on its southern border. The majority of the displaced have ended up in overcrowded camps or taken shelter in abandoned buildings. Others are sleeping in the open air. 

Erdogan took aim at European leaders March 11 for not fulfilling commitments made under a 2016 deal designed to help stem the flow of refugees to Europe. Ankara says it has not received all the promised funding, as well as other commitments, including visa-free travel for Turkish citizens. 

“We don’t want any aid from anyone. We’re also not begging for someone. Our only demand is that the EU keeps its pledges made to our country,” Erdogan said, according to Turkish newspaper Hurriyet Daily News.