For most close observers, it has long seemed only a matter of time before the long, bloody proxy war between Turkey and Russia for regional predominance in the Middle East would break out into full-scale direct hostilities. That came closer to happening last week, when Russian-backed Syrian forces attacked a Turkish military outpost in Idlib province, leaving more than 30 Turkish soldiers dead. However, few observers would have predicted the utter impotence of Turkey’s ostensible military partners in NATO in the face of what is arguably the gravest threat to the future of the alliance since the Russian annexation of Crimea in 2014.
In retaliation for last week’s attack, which some initial reports claimed was the work of Russian bombers, Turkey has pounded Syrian forces with drone strikes and taken out the Syrian army’s Russian-made anti-aircraft batteries. Earlier this week, Russian warships in the Black Sea fleet steamed across the Bosporus strait to boost the Russian navy’s presence in the eastern Mediterranean.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan flew to Moscow on Thursday for an emergency summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin to tamp down tensions. They announced yet another cease-fire in Idlib and joint patrols in a corridor along a strategic highway, but the deal is likely to be temporary and tenuous at best.