Russia wakes up: slamming the brakes on the Assad fantasy

After the Turks sent massive arms shipments to the (anti-Assad) opposition group National Liberation Front (NLF), organised by the Turkish armed forces, and after Western powers, led by Britain, backed Erdoğan’s stance on Idlib in no uncertain terms, Putin has invited the Turkish president for an urgent meeting in Sochi this coming Monday, to discuss his proposals for clearing Idlib of the ex-al-Qaeda group Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham (HTS).

It must be clear to Putin that after the capture and arrest of Yusuf Nazik by Turkish intelligence (MİT), in an undercover operation in the Syrian régime stronghold of Latakia, Turkish support for the NLF will last for ‘at long as it takes’ for the Syrian opposition group to win out against Assad. Things have changed dramatically with the public arrest and confession of Nazik, who is a Syrian intelligence operative involved in in a bomb attack in Reyhanlı, Hatay Province, on 11 May 2013, planned by Assad, which killed 53 people.

What is clear to Putin now is that Turkey will use this publicity as justification for its long-standing negative stance on Assad, and that it is likely that the Turkish armed forces will exact revenge for a bombing, which is not the first atrocity Assad organised against Turkish interests over the years. Furthermore, in the current Syrian scenario, and as Turkey is positioned with 12 concrete-reinforced bases around Idlib, its armed forces are perfectly positioned to deal a major military defeat on Assad’s forces. This could cause the total unwinding of a threadbare régime that still fantasises about nailing all of Syria under its rule. That is, if Russia is not careful.

But all the signs are that Russia is being careful. Quite apart from the call for the urgent Sochi meeting with the Turkish president, a sudden withdrawal of the “Tiger Forces”, an élite unit of Syrian régime forces under direct control of Russia and led by Brigadier Suhail Hassan, has been announced. The unit withdrew from the northern Hama countryside of Idlib Province, back towards the desert countryside of Suwayda.