ANKARA: Russian ballistic missile strikes in northern Syria on Monday in defiance of the ceasefire with Turkey in March 2020 could have wider repercussions, experts say.
The Russian attack from the regime-controlled Kweyris base in Aleppo targeted Turkish-controlled oil refineries in northwestern Syria. It was the second such attack in nine days.
As Syria marks a decade of civil war, this region is considered vital for supplying oil to households, farmers, bakeries and other businesses.
Refineries here are used to refine around 40% of the crude oil from the region controlled by the Syrian Kurdish YPG forces, which is mainly used for generators, heating or running machinery.
Ankara immediately sent a notification to the Russian Federation to stop firing and put its troops in the region on alert.
Some experts believe that Russia is seeking to consolidate its geopolitical interests in the region, while warning Ankara against any potential rapprochement with the United States.
However, the attacks could push Ankara to seek allies in any stalemate with Russia.
“The Biden administration must keep its promises and work with us to end the tragedy in Syria and protect democracy,” Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said yesterday.
Emre Ersen, Turkey-Russia relations expert at Istanbul Marmara University, said the latest incident once again shows the fragility of the geopolitical balance in Syria, as it came just days after the meeting. between the Foreign Ministers of Turkey, Russia and Qatar regarding the solution of the Syrian crisis.
On March 11, the three countries launched a new trilateral consultation process to contribute to a lasting political solution in Syria.
“It also reminded everyone that despite the development of a special relationship between Ankara and Moscow in recent years, their differences over the solution of regional conflicts could easily trigger a new crisis in bilateral relations,” said Ersen.
Such tensions could also affect the outcome of negotiations over the Russian Su-35 jet, Ersen said, although Turkey has so far sought to compartmentalize such issues in its relationship with Russia.
“The two countries still need each other to achieve their goals in Syria. This is why the so-called Turkish-Russian “marriage of convenience” in Syria is going to be maintained at least in the short term, “he said.
Navvar Saban, of the Istanbul-based Omran Center for Strategic Studies, said Russia and Turkey still have common fronts in Idlib, the Euphrates Shield and eastern Syria, and that each front has its own characteristics and objectives.
He believes the latest Russian attack is aimed at testing how much the Turkish side wants to move forward by targeting these refineries.
“It’s a direct message to show what they can target and to understand the Turkish response,” he said.
“It’s a fragile deal on different fronts. The Russians have the upper hand at the moment and Turkey must send a clear and direct message to maintain the balance of power, ”he added.
“Russia wants Turkey to ensure the security of the M4 motorway and eliminate extremist groups in this area. On the eastern side, Russia wants a ceasefire agreement to prevent Turkey from advancing further in this area, ”Saban said.
However, there is disagreement among experts on the extent to which Damascus can take military action against Turkey independently of Russia.
Anton Mardasov, a non-resident scholar in the Middle East Institute’s Syrian program, does not believe the new missile attack is related to a warning from Russia.
“The latest missile strikes were an independent initiative from Damascus,” he said. “Outside observers grossly exaggerate Russia’s influence over the Syrian army,” Mardasov added.
According to Mardasov, Moscow is not interested in a new scandal over Syria.
“The main thing for Moscow is to get rid of its economic burden, so it prefers to act quietly,” he said. “Damascus is interested in public relations before the elections and a new scandal in order to drag Russia into reconstruction.
“Russia is interested in constantly testing Turkey’s strong position, but not during this time. “