What happened: The US said yesterday it will give $108m in humanitarian aid to Syrian civilians in Turkey as part of UN programmes, but stopped short of offering Patriot missiles to Turkey.
- A group of senior US officials, led by US Ambassador to the UN Kelly Craft that included US special Syria envoy James Jeffrey and US Ambassador to Turkey David Satterfield announced the aid package in a visit to a refugee camp on the Turkish-Syrian border.
- In response to a member of the rescue organisation Syrian Civil Defence, also known as the White Helmets, accusing the US and the world of “watching us as we are slaughtered,” Craft said: “The only answer is a cease-fire. The humanitarian aid, while that is wonderful, that is just a response to this brutal attack by the Assad regime.”
- Turkey has asked the US for Patriot missiles to help it challenge Syrian and Russian air power in north-western Syria. The US has refused to sell the air-defence system to Turkey since last year, when Ankara bought Russia’s S-400 missile system after US objections. “We understand the Turkish request for air defence. We are examining that request,” said Satterfield.
- Ambassador Jeffrey told reporters that the US was working to ensure that US-made equipment is ready for the Turkish military, such as ammunition. “Turkey is a NATO ally. We have a very, very big foreign military sales programme, much of the Turkish military uses American equipment. We will make sure that that equipment is ready. As a NATO partner we share information intelligence … and we are going to ensure that they have what they need there,” he said.
- On Tuesday Turkey shot down a Syrian regime fighter jet, the third since Sunday, in an escalating military campaign against Syrian regime advances in Idlib province.
Context: The US response to the rising escalation in Syria’s Idlib province has been complicated by Turkey’s military links to Russia.
- Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan is scheduled to meet Russian President Vladimir Putin on Thursday after weeks of talks between their delegations have so far failed to agree a ceasefire.
- More than a million refugees have massed on the Turkish border since December, when the Syrian regime began an offensive to retake the last-remaining rebel stronghold. The battle for Syria’s Idlib province has caused what the UN says might be the worst humanitarian crisis of the nine-year-old Syrian civil war.
- UN Under-secretary General for Humanitarian Affairs, Mark Lowcock, told reporters at a trans-shipment point for supplies in southern Turkey: “This relief operation has been overwhelmed. There needs to be more of everything. The first thing is money”. Lowcock added that an extra $1bn was needed annually to sustain relief operations for a couple of million people in the Idlib region.
- British Foreign Secretary Dominic Ra’ab said during a visit to Ankara that the UK would give an additional $114m (£89m) in aid to Syria. He said: “Turkey is on the frontline of some of the most difficult and serious challenges we face with the Syrian regime and Russian forces continuing to escalate the violence on its border. We have been clear in our condemnation of the Syrian regime’s actions in Idlib and we will continue to raise concerns about its flagrant violations of international law. As NATO allies and G20 members the UK and Turkey enjoys a partnership built on cooperation in defence, security and trade and I look forward to deepening our relationship even further during my first official visit.”
Looking ahead: Turkey and Russia appeared to be getting closer as Turkey moved away from its traditional alliance with the US and NATO allies. However, a clash of strategic interests in Syria is increasing the likelihood of military tension between the US and Russia for the first time. Russia will likely try and get a new ceasefire with Turkey agreed, otherwise it risks pushing Turkey back into the NATO and US orbit.
- Were Russian President Vladimir Putin to offer a deal on Idlib to the Turkish President, he would likely accept it to save face and reach his objective of securing Turkey’s borders and combating Kurdish militias in northern Syria.