Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan today warned that it is only "a matter of time" until Ankara launches a military operation into Syria's Idlib province, following the failure of talks with Russia.
In a speech addressing his ruling party's parliamentary group today, Erdogan referred to Turkey's previous military operations into Syria starting from 2016, stating that "As with all [previous] operations, we say 'we could suddenly come one night.' In other words, an Idlib operation is a matter of time. "
Recalling the meetings with Russia that have taken place throughout the past two weeks regarding solving the violence in Idlib, he said that the last meeting which ended yesterday failed to produce results and that "Turkey has made all preparations to carry out its own operation plans in Idlib."
Despite meetings between Turkey and Russia set to continue in the near future, Erdogan said that a direct military operation is the next necessary step to take as the failure of the meetings were "a reality that we were very far from what we want".
He also touched upon the goal to establish Idlib as a safe zone for the province's inhabitants and displaced Syrians fleeing the conflict, which would also help Turkey avoid another large wave of refugees to add to the three to four million it already currently holds.
The province of Idlib, which is the last major opposition stronghold in Syria's nine-year-long civil war, was originally meant to be a de-escalation or safe zone in the first place, as stated under the agreement struck between Turkey and Russia back in September 2018.
That agreement, however, was violated by both the Syrian regime and its ally Russia when they launched a campaign in April last year. In recent months, the regime has made significant gains, especially with the support of Russian ground troops and Iranian forces, enabling it to retake around half of Idlib province so far, including key towns and cities and the strategic M5 highway.
The escalation of the violence has resulted in a humanitarian crisis in which the inhabitants of Idlib – numbering over three million – are severely lacking in proper shelter, protection, food, sanitation, healthcare and education. Almost a million of those are displaced by the regime's bombardment and have been forced to flee their homes and to move further north towards the Turkish border, with the mass exodus raising fears of a new wave of refugees into Turkey and subsequently into Europe.
In the first week of February, Erdogan warned the Syrian regime that Turkey would directly intervene if it did not cease its advance and withdraw behind the agreed de-escalation zone lines by the end of the month. If this new military operation is launched, it would be Turkey's fourth intervention into Syria, following Operation Euphrates Shield in 2016, Operation Olive Branch in 2018, and Operation Peace Spring last year.