Recep Tayyip Erdogan
Recep Tayyip ErdoganReuters

A week after Israel National Newsreported that Turkey was on a crash course with Russia over Syria the parties are now at war technically speaking.

This happened after talks between a Turkish delegation and the Kremlin in Moscow about the worsening crisis in northeast Syria and the imminent threat of a new Turkish invasion in Syria over the Idlib Province, which is home to a range of Sunni Islamist groups supported by Turkey, broke-down.

The Turkey-backed Islamist militias in Idlib are on the verge of defeat after the Iranian-Russian-backed pro-Assad coalition rapidly advanced in the last rebel stronghold and even surrounded Turkish observation posts which were set up to monitor a 2018 de-escalation agreement between Russia and Turkey that failed miserably.

After the new talks between Russia and Turkey broke down Turkish autocratic leader Recep Tayyip Erdogan threatened to launch a new incursion into Syria, a promise he kept this time around.

"If the countries that we are in negotiations with do not do what needs to be done in Idlib, then we will do it ourselves. For the time being, we do not see the result that we want from these talks. We are fully prepared for our own operation in Idlib, it's only a matter of time we can start at any moment. This is a vital operation for us," Erdogan said on Wednesday.

On Thursday, Turkish troops with heavy weapons entered northern Idlib as Turkish artillery heavily shelled Syrian army positions while the Russian air force bombed Turkish positions in the same region.

Within a few hours fifty Syrian soldiers or members of Iranian-backed Shiite militias had been killed while Turkey lost only two soldiers. The Turks and their Islamist allies also destroyed five tanks and four armored vehicles belonging to the pro-Assad troops.

The fighting again drove Syrians from their homes and roughly 900.000 people are now camping out in the region along the Turkish border in freezing cold weather because Turkey - that has already absorbed more than 3.7 million Syrian refugees - closed down all border crossings in the region.

The Turks and their Syrian allies stormed the town of Nairab, tried to force the pro-Assad coalition to abandon their control over the important M4 highway and attempted to end the siege of five Turkish observation posts in northeast Idlib.

Turkey has now 7.000 soldiers on the ground in Syria who are in the possession of 2.000 armored vehicles and 70 tanks.

The Russians only have military advisers, warplanes and anti-aircraft batteries such as the S-300 and S-400 systems at their disposal but could quickly deploy soldiers to Idlib if needed.

Chances that this will happen are low, however. Moscow could team up with the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) which until now were in the orbit of the US military.

Semyon Baghdasarov, the director of the Center for the Middle East and Central Asia, told the state-controlled Russian paper Pravda he expects that Russia will demand that Assad closes a deal with the Kurdish YPG militia.

Baghdasarov also advises Russian President Vladimir Putin to start supporting the outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) in Turkey and to increase support for Kurdish Marxist and Leninist groups.

The Russian Middle East expert even advises the pro-Assad coalition to carry out a similar incursion in Turkey in response to Erdogan’s aggression.

For the Syrian Kurds this could be a win-win situation after the US army effectively abandoned the SDF and is only patrolling in some areas along the Turkish border while safeguarding the oilfields in eastern Syria so that the SDF won’t be deprived of the income of oil exports.

Now that Assad needs help against the Turks, who have a far better and larger army than the Syrian dictator has, a deal with the Kurds about recognizing some form of autonomy in the Rojava cantons would scuttle Erdogan’s plan to end any form of Kurdish autonomy along the Turkish border.

Erdogan is already in a difficult position after a series of miscalculations that cost him the sympathy of a large number of Sunni Islamist Syrian rebels who are now doing the Turkish strong bidding in the Libyan war where Turkey is also meddling.

The decision to ship these rebels to Libya where they are fighting on the side of the UN recognized government against the Libya National Army of Khalifa Haftar, who is supported by Russia and uses Russian mercenaries of the Kremlin-linked Wagner company, is now negatively influencing the rebels’ fighting capabilities at home in Idlib.

Erdogan has now turned to US President Donald J. Trump with whom he spoke on the telephone on Wednesday.

The hotheaded Turkish strongman reportedly asked Trump for the delivery of the Patriot anti-missile system now that his relations with Russia are rapidly deteriorating, according to Bloomberg.

Turkey’s recent overtures to Moscow resulted in the sale of the Russian S-400 missile and anti-aircraft shield but they haven’t become operable yet.

In a statement the Turkish Foreign Ministry later denied that Erdogan had requested the delivery of the Patriot system apparently to save his face now that he has isolated Turkey even more.

Relations between Turkey and Russia were already cooling down before Erdogan ordered the new incursion in Syria.

Anti-Russian rhetoric in the state-controlled Turkish media is increasing while Russia recently re-imposed a ban on the import of agricultural products from Turkey.