Three scenarios for Russia in Idlib
While the presidents of Iran, Russia and Turkey are discussing the fate of Idlib, the Syrian armed forces are continuing preparations for the forthcoming operation. Russia supports Assad, but the US and Turkey are categorically against the introduction of troops. How will the Kremlin act in this situation?
Over the past day, the situation around the north-western Syrian province of Idlib, where the last remnants of the opposition have remained, continues to be pumped. Bashar Assad is preparing an offensive against the militants, counting on the support of Russia and Iran. The United States in the person of Donald Trump is categorically against the sweep of Idlib and predicts the death of "hundreds of thousands of people." In parallel, the Washington Post and other American media write that Assad is allegedly preparing a chemical attack, and the US Armed Forces have already set targets for missile strikes. Turkey, a partner of Russia and Iran in the Astana format, is also against military action.
If we consider that the US actions have not affected the restoration of Damascus control over the new Syrian provinces, the position of Turkey is the only obstacle to solving the Idlib problem. Turkey has a common border with the province, has influence on a number of groups and is afraid of a new influx of refugees. In addition, Idlib's transition to Assad will weaken the geopolitical position of the Turks in Syria.
In this situation, Russia has three obvious solutions to the situation:
1. The first option and while the most close to implementation is to wait until Turkey separates the radicals and "Hayat-Tahrir ash-Sham" from moderate forces ready for a truce. After this classification, Russia, Assad and pro-Iranian groups receive carte blanche to attack the position of terrorists. But part of the territories that control the pro-Turkish forces will remain untouched and will be the subject of further dialogue.
2. The second scenario. The disengagement of terrorists is a failure. Turkey categorically refuses and resists military operations in Idlib. But Russia, Assad and their allies ignore Ankara's position and forcefully take the region, much like it did in East Aleppo. Assad strengthens his position, but there is a risk of the collapse of the "Astana Triangle". Irritated Turkey can start across the border to support militants, supply them with weapons and destabilize the province in the future. Confrontation with Turkey will strengthen the unity of NATO, which is extremely unprofitable for Russia.
3. The third option is that Russia pauses in hostilities and works out diplomatic solutions to the problem. But the respite can benefit terrorists and militants who regroup and will periodically attack Syrian government forces and the Russian base in Latakia.
Anyway, the positions of Ankara and Moscow are diametrically opposed. Russia wants to return Idlib to a legitimate government, Turkey is afraid of migration and loss of influence. So far, no clear agreements, at least officially.