On the 21st of September 2016, ISIS encircled a Turkish military contingent in Al Bab, killing 16 Turkish soldiers. Two of them were burnt alive in a ISIS propaganda video.
Turkish President Erdogan vowed revenge for the attack and consequently Turkish troops have been engaged with ISIS in the Al Bab region of Aleppo Governorate ever since.
Some Turkish forces who remain in Syria were recently accidentally fired upon by the Aerospace Forces of the Russian Federation. Three Turkish soldiers were killed and eleven are reported wounded.
President Putin has telephoned President Erdogan to express his condolences.
This raises an important question over coordination in Syria. As one of Syria’s allies and a legal participant in the Syrian led war against terrorism, Moscow and Damascus are in constant communication during all military endeavours as well as civilian aid efforts.
Whilst Turkey as a force illegally operating in Syria does not formally communicate with Damascus, it is widely known that Ankara and Moscow are in regular communication. It is for this reason that Turkish and Russian forces haven’t had any overt negative encounters since November of 2014 when Turkey shot down a Russian jet after making an allegation which was almost certainly false, that the plane strayed into Turkish air space.
That incident caused a tumultuous breakdown in relations between Moscow and Turkey. Many in Russia called for vengeance, but the Kremlin maintained a cool collective head. This resulted in Turkish-Russian reconciliation in June 2016, with further agreements over the course of the summer, with both countries agreeing to extend trade, scientific cooperation and more vaguely, cooperation with each other against threats in Syria.
There is a possibility that the recent incident could jeopardise the Russian-Turkish accord of 2016 and possibly also the Astana peace talks in which Turkey is participating as a broker along with Russia and Iran.
Although this possibility looms, I do not believe this will be this happen.
Russia has been quick to contact the Turkish side in a clear attempt to calm the situation. Unlike the US Air Force which over the last decades has had numerous incidents of bombing allies or civilian targets, Russia is generally far more communicative with important parties, and as a result such instances are rare in respect of the Russian Aerospace Forces.
Kremlin press spokesman Dmitry Peskov has issued the following statement on the incident,
“As for the reasons (for the incident), they are unfortunately clear. There’s no controversy. The situation is evident: our military was following the data sent by our Turkish partners, and there shouldn’t have been any Turkish troops within the limits of these coordinates”.
Peskov went on to say that in spite of the incident, Russia and Turkey remain committed to further cooperation in Syria and that relations remain cordial.
Although Turkey has thus far not reacted angrily to the incident, the Turkish side insists that Russia had accurate date about the whereabouts of Turkish troops.
When it comes to Turkish transparency in Turkey, it must be said that for years Turkey has been working both militarily and politically to destabilise the situation in Syria. It is only recently that Turkey has publicly renounced its previous intention of forcing illegal regime change on Damascus.
At the recent peace conference in Astana, Syrian UN Envoy Dr. Bashar al- Jaafari referred to Turkey as an ‘enemy’ but nevertheless one that Syria must engage with in order to try and save the country.
It will be interesting to hear the adjectives used by Ankara and Moscow to describe each other.