Turkey’s strategy in the Eastern Mediterranean from Libya to Idlib

Turkey’s strategy in the Eastern Mediterranean from Libya to Idlib

The new front with Russia

In the most formal way, Turkey announced the continuation of its seismic explorations and drilling operations in the Eastern Mediterranean but also in the areas mentioned in the Memorandum between Ankara and the Tripoli government. Last Thursday, just minutes after the cabinet meeting chaired by Recep Tayyip Erdogan wrapped up, Turkish Presidency spokesman Ibrahim Kalin specifically said that “given our agreement with the official Libyan government, we will continue our seismic researches and drilling operations in the Eastern Mediterranean and the areas we have agreed upon with Libya. On this issue I must stress that we are determined”.

The statement does not specify when the explorations will begin, but it seems that Ankara will not be waiting for the developments in Libya and for peace efforts on the front between the government of Fayez al-Sharj and his opponent General Haftar to bear fruits.

Besides, when it comes to Libya there is also a serious disagreement with Moscow, as Ankara backs Sharjah and Moscow sides with Haftar; despite successive meetings and phone communications between Turkey and Russia, no definitive agreement has been reached.

For Turkey, Libya constitutes the western frontier of its attempt to control part of the Eastern Mediterranean. Along with its southern coasts, the control of the northern part of Cyprus and its efforts to remain in Syria, it appears it is trying to pertain a strong presence in all fronts.

That is why, in addition to the illegal, according to the UN, military occupation of Northern Cyprus, it has also dispatched two drilling rigs and seismic research vessels to claim through the Turkish-Cypriots a share of the hydrocarbons within the island’s Exclusive Economic Zone.

Yet the big problem Turkey now faces is in Syria, as when it comes to Idlib it has followed a completely different path from that of Moscow. The crisis between the two sides culminated in the deaths of 8 Turkish soldiers from the attacks by the Syrian forces backed by Moscow.

According to the Hurriyet newspaper, Ankara had begun sending strong military forces to Idlib, and in particular to the city of Sarakeb, to prevent the advance of Assad’s forces.

Already 2 Turkish outposts were besieged by Assad’s forces and Turkey did not want to fall deeper into their hands. However, despite the crisis and despite the resignations of Recep Tayyip Erdogan towards Assad, the city of Sarakeb was occupied by Assad’s military forces on Friday morning and a third Turkish outpost was besieged. With this move by Assad there are only 40 kilometers left to complete the Aleppo road link with Damascus.

“The Turkish Armed Forces are planning a new move, and to the north of Sarakeb they are getting ready to build a new outpost at the military airport. In short, we could say that with the new steps taken by Turkey, but also Russia with Assad, they are taking a stance in their fronts and the situation is getting out of hand”, political analyst Sedat Ergin reports on Hurriyet newspaper.

A Russian delegation arrived in Turkey on Saturday to hold talks in order to stop the Syrian government’s attack and end the humanitarian disaster in the northwestern Syrian province of Idlib.

Syrian regime forces, backed by Russia’s ally, stormed into a key city in the province of Idlib, the last remaining in the hands of jihadists and insurgents.

Sarakeb, a city which just a few months ago had a population of 110,000 people according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, is almost completely empty today, after months of devastating and deadly bombings. In the city, two crucial highways intersect that connect the Aleppo metropolis with the coastal province of Latakia and the capital Damascus.

Syrian army officials have also accused Turkey of deploying armored vehicles north of Sarakeb to “protect terrorists” and “prevent the advance” of Assad’s forces.

“Let’s be honest. Turkey and Syria are at war in Idlib and Russia, being Assad’s military ally, is becoming part of that conflict”, Ergin notes.

Erdogan, however, is trying to keep a balance with Moscow by explaining to Turkish journalists his country’s close ties with Russia.

“There is no need at this time to clash or create tensions with Russia. We are planning strategic steps with Moscow. Like the nuclear power plant, where the amount invested is huge. Already 300 scientists of ours have been trained. There is the Turk Stream pipeline, through which we send gas to Europe. We also purchase most of our gas quantities from Russia. We will purchase the S-400s. We have a $ 25-billion trade relationship, and the first in tourist arrivals are the Russians and then the Germans. These cannot be overlooked. Therefore, we will sit down and talk”, the Turkish president said.

In Idlib, Bashar al-Assad’s regime is fighting its last strategic battle, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, as its forces have now regained control of 70% of the Syrian territory. /ibna