The question of whether Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan discussed his suddenly-announced plans to overthrow the Assad regime with Russian President Vladimir Putin when the two were holding telephone conferences about the Syrian crisis last week appears to have been answered.
“The announcement really came as news to us. It is a very serious statement and one which differs from previous ones and with our understanding of the situation. We hope that our Turkish partners will provide us with some kind of explanation about this,” exclaimed a Kremlin spokesman in a conference call on Wednesday.
Pending such clarification, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Mikhail Bogdanov publicly reminded Erdogan that if he plans to “wage war” against Bashar Assad, it would violate every international agreement Turkey has signed.
Russia’s parliamentary head of foreign affairs, Alexei Pushkov, chimed in with a breezy assessment that Erdogan’s goal “does not seem feasible,” while Viktor Ozerov, chair of the Federation Council Committee on Defense and Security, said that Erdogan was making “emotional” comments for domestic political purposes.
The feasibility of Erdogan’s proposed assault on Damascus was challenged by Al-Monitor’s report on Wednesday that Turkey’s drive to capture the strategic towns of al-Bab and Manbij appears to have stalled out, in part because the Turks are having increasing difficulty with providing air support for their ground forces, including allied Syrian rebels.
In Al-Monitor’s view, both Russia and the United States are wary of allowing Turkey or its Free Syrian Army allies (or the Kurdish forces that Turkey considers its most immediate threat) to capture al-Bab. The recent bombing of Turkish troops in Syria, which Turkey has blamed on the Syrian air force, may have been intended as a warning for Turkey to push no further, delivered with Russian approval.
Erdogan had yet another phone conversation with Putin on Wednesday after which it was announced the two leaders agreed on the need for a ceasefire in the hard-hit Aleppo region. Sources told Reuters, “the two leaders agreed on intensifying efforts towards a cessation of hostilities and on the need for the provision of aid to the city.”
That doesn’t sound like the kind of conversation that would end with Erdogan saying, “Oh, by the way, Vladimir, I’m planning to attack Damascus and depose Assad.”