Moscow has called for restraint after a Turkish parliamentarian blamed Russia for the recent deaths of Turkish troops in clashes with Syrian government forces attempting to liberate the militant-held Idlib province.
Devlet Bahceli, leader of the Nationalist Movement Party (Milliyetçi Hareket Partisi, MHP), had argued in the Turkish parliament that Moscow and Damascus were responsible for the deaths of 13 Turkish soldiers over the past week.
“We consider it unacceptable to use the tragic events to ‘score points’ in the domestic political debate,” the Foreign Ministry said in a statement on Thursday, adding that Turkish lawmakers ought to “refrain from provocative comments, which by no means contribute to a constructive dialogue between our countries on the issue of a Syrian settlement.”
Ankara sent troops into Idlib to halt the advance of Syrian forces against the militants affiliated with Al-Qaeda. Moscow has pointed out that the government of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan failed to uphold its end of the bargain struck in Sochi in 2018, to separate the jihadists from the so-called “moderate” rebels that Turkey has been backing.
Russia has had an expeditionary force in Syria since 2015, fighting Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS) and other terrorist groups on invitation from Damascus. No such invitation was ever extended to Turkey, which nonetheless sent troops into Syrian territory on three occasions – in the summer of 2016, in October 2019, and again this month.
It was Russian mediation that helped defuse tensions between Turkey and the US over the 2019 advance by Turkish-backed militants against the US-allied Kurdish militia in northern Syria.
The prospect of Syrian troops clearing the militants out of Idlib has alarmed Ankara so much that Erdogan sent actual Turkish troops into the fray, only for more than a dozen of them to die in clashes with the Syrian Arab Army. Erdogan has threatened Damascus with reprisals if any more soldiers are hurt. Syria responded by officially recognizing the Ottoman Empire’s massacre of Armenians during WWI as a genocide.
Russia sees as the main priority reducing the level of violence on the ground, Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said during the regular press briefing on Thursday, noting that Moscow and Ankara were working together on a “comprehensive solution” to the Idlib problem.
“It should be emphasized that all de-escalation zones in Syria were created as a temporary measure, which should in no way infringe on the sovereignty and territorial integrity of the country, nor or impede the fight against terrorists recognized as such by the UN Security Council,” Zakharova added.