Is Russia’s attack on Syria’s Idlib fighters a ‘message’ to Turkey?

Russia and Turkey are both profoundly involved in some of the world's most significant ongoing disputes, including in Libya, the Caucasus, and Syria.

On Monday, Russian airstrikes killed dozens of Turkey-backed fighters in northwestern Syria in a deadly escalation of violence that has put a fragile cease-fire at risk.

A representative for the Syrian National Army, Maj. Youssef Hammoud said, “A Russian aircraft that took off from Syria’s Hmeimim Air Base executed one raid, firing three ordnances at a training camp in Idlib province.”

Russia and Turkey are both profoundly involved in some of the world’s most significant ongoing disputes, including Libya, the Caucasus, and Syria.

Experts say the Jabal al-Dweila attack by Russia, which targeted a military training camp for Failaq al-Sham, one of the biggest Turkey-backed armed organizations in the area, was a “message” to Ankara.

Speaking to Al Jazeera, the Director of the US-based Middle East Institute, Charles Lister, said, “As Ankara’s closest proxy in Idlib province, this “was not a Russian strike on the Syrian opposition as much as it was a straight hit and message to Turkey.”

Lister added, “Given the “immensity” of the attack, which killed at least 35 fighters and injured more than 50; broader geopolitics might have pushed Russia to launch a military operation.

Other specialists, including Turkish columnist Semih Idiz, agree that the Russian airstrike timing is “meaningful” when Ankara is “flexing its muscles” in the Caucasus and the Middle East.

“The Armenian-Azeri conflict is a primarily sensitive matter because it is happening in what Moscow believes is its backyard and sphere of authority,” Idiz told a source.

When Russia and Turkey signed the first major Idlib deal in 2017, the central condition set forth by Moscow was that Ankara must terminate The HTS. The transcontinental country has often used the presence of Tahrir al-Sham to attack Idlib. However, Ankara has not done away with the armed group, Idiz said.

The Turkish columnist added, “The recent strike has been Russia’s way of saying that time is running out – or has run out.” He referred to the conditions set in a deal agreed on by the Turkish President, Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin, at a summit earlier this year.

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