Thursday's airstrike on Turkish soldiers has left many traces hinting at Russian involvement in the ghastly attack, making the historic enmity between the two powers all too real.

The killing of 33 Turkish soldiers in an airstrike conducted by the Russia-backed Assad regime on Thursday has given Ankara another reason to suspect Moscow's intentions toward Turkey.

Russia reacted to the attack with bizarre and incoherent statements. First, the Russian defence ministry said Ankara did not inform Moscow about the whereabouts of its troops. Contradicting that line, it then said Turkish troops were embedded with "terrorist groups" and were therefore exposed to the regime attack.

Turkish Defence Minister Hulusi Akar rejected Russia's response and said Ankara had shared the coordinates of its military positions with Moscow. Akar said Turkish troops were not standing close to any armed group. 

Turkey has unequivocally condemned the attack and both the ruling and opposition parties are on the same page, as Turkish forces carried out overnight retaliatory attacks on regime positions. 

Turkish armed forces used enormous firepower all night, pounding Syrian regime targets with armed drones and artillery, neutralising 309 regime soldiers and destroying battle tanks, howitzers and other military infrastructure. 

Whatever goodwill Russia had cultivated within Turkey's political establishment in the past few years, Thursday's attack has thrown a spanner in almost all the diplomatic successes the two sides had achieved. 

(Enes Danis / TRTWorld)

“The murderous regime and its enablers will pay a heavy price for their treacherous acts,” said Omer Celik, the spokesman of the AK Party, accusing both the regime and Russia for the deaths of Turkish troops. 

“The Russian Federation has shown its nefarious and ominous face, which has been obvious for us, exposing its brewing hidden enmity toward Turkey,” said Devlet Bahceli, the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) leader, who is an ally of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. 

Bahceli has been known for his tough stances, but at crucial times like now, he has usually echoed the ultimate sentiment inside the Turkish state establishment. 

Bahceli has also called an urgent military action against the regime saying: “It totally does not matter whether Russians, which control Syrian air space, will open it up to us or not.” 

“At this hour, using force has become an inevitable imperative for us,” Bahceli said. 

Turkey has abided by the Sochi Agreement, which allows it to monitor de-escalation zones in Syria, but both Damascus and Moscow have repeatedly violated the agreement, hitting Idlib, the last rival Syrian stronghold, without differentiating between a civilian and an armed fighter and causing yet another massive refugee crisis, which impacts Turkey the most.  

Turkish military vehicles enter the Bab al-Hawa crossing at the Syrian-Turkish border, in Idlib governorate, Syria, February 9, 2020.
Turkish military vehicles enter the Bab al-Hawa crossing at the Syrian-Turkish border, in Idlib governorate, Syria, February 9, 2020. (Khalil Ashawi / Reuters)

Despite serious differences, Ankara left negotiations open with Russia, hoping Moscow would rein in the Assad regime and work toward building peace in Syria and possibly bring an end to the nine-year civil war. 

Under the Sochi accord, Turkey formed 12 observation posts in Idlib to oversee ceasefires but most of them were violated by Damascus and Moscow from time to time. 

But since December, Russian-backed Assad forces have marched across Idlib, massacring civilians, forcing nearly a million refugees to flee from their homes toward the Turkish border, in a clear violation of the Sochi agreement.

The February 27 attack on Turkish forces complicates the process of negotiations and maximises the possibility of a deadly military retaliation, which may hit Syrian targets as well as its Russian enablers. 

“Enemies have to be crushed wherever they have been seen,” Bahceli said.

Source: TRT World