Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has strongly criticised the recent Russian military interventions transpiring mostly in northern Syrian territories near the Turkish border to bolster Bashar al Assad's regime, warning that “Russia will lose much if it loses Turkey.”
The Turkish president made his remarks on Tuesday in Brussels, warning Russia that the country puts its formidable relations with Turkey in danger with its Syrian policy, at a joint press conference following a meeting with Belgian's Prime Minister Charles Michel.
Although the disagreement between Turkey and Russia has incrementally increased due to Syrian politics, they have had a cordial relationship in terms of the energy sector, particularly concerning the Turkish Stream until recently.
Gazprom deputy chairman Alexander Medvedev announced in mid-September that the Turkish Stream pipeline project will not be implemented by the end of 2016 as it has previously been planned because of continuing disagreements between Turkey and Russia.
Erdogan said that “there have been [countries] who are trying to protect Assad. Iran and Russia have been among those countries. What Russia has been doing in Syria violates our borders. NATO has also given a stern ultimatum to them,” speaking to journalists during Turkey’s first official visit to Belgium.
“It is impossible to tolerate this kind of behaviour. It is also against NATO’s [declared] principles, so it replied [with full force]. Whatever is done against Turkey is done against NATO,” he added.
Turkey became a NATO member in 1952, during the course of the Cold War, to counter the threat posed by the communist Soviet Union which is predecessor to the current Russian Federation.
Turkey and the US have consistently defended to topple the Assad regime, backing opposition groups while Russia has supported the regime since the beginning of the conflict.
Russia recently began bombing mostly Syrian opposition-held territories in the country, other than ISIS, which has strongly been protested by Turkey, US, and the NATO alliance.
Russia has added another threatening dimension in its Syrian drama, reportedly violating the Turkish airspace near the Syrian border with its fighter jets on Saturday.
In addition, Russian Parliament’s top defence lawmaker Admiral Vladimir Komoyedov on Monday announced that “volunteers” from the Russian Federation will possibly join the Syrian war on the side of Bashar al Assad's regime to fight against opposition forces, increasing more tension with Turkey and NATO alliance.
Turkey’s Syria border has also been the eastern border of the alliance since the Cold War.
It seems to be that Syria has become a scene of a new military showdown between two former cold war actors, Russia and the US, and their respective allies both of whom have claimed to declare the war against ISIS.
Russian media previously reported that the country has agreed with Iraq, Syria, and Iran to share intelligence against ISIS, effectively establishing a so-called anti-ISIS alliance based in the Iraqi capital, Baghdad.
An existing US-led coalition including Turkey, several western countries, and Gulf Arab states battling ISIS is operating in both Iraq and Syria in an effort to uproot the militancy and the US also has a significant military presence in Baghdad.
Turkish Presidential Spokesman Ibrahim Kalin also commented on the recent Russian military moves in Syria saying that “Russian air strikes seem to have been designed to keep Assad in power indefinitely rather than prepare the ground for a political transition that will eventually see Assad's departure,” in an article published on Tuesday in Turkish Daily Sabah.
“Keeping Assad after a more than four-year bloody war will only inflame further hatred, animosity and conflict and help ISIS and other extremist groups,” he added.
More than 220,000 people have been killed in Syria since the civil war started in 2011 between the Assad regime and opposition forces following the Arab Spring movement that swept a number of countries in the Middle-East and North Africa.