In Moscow it took almost three hours for the two leaders and another three hours for the two respective Russian and Turkish delegations to pen an added protocol of just three sentences. Then it took not hours but days for the two countries military delegations, in Ankara this time, to come to an agreement on jointly patrolling a short east-west horizontal strip of the M4 highway from Trumba to Ain Al Hawr. 

That stretch of the road is the new southern border of the now shrunk Idlib pocket of after Moscow. This is mere pittance by my count especially if one is not amnesic to the loss 54 troops during military operations to hold that line. At the Security Council meeting Turkey, thru its permanent delegate to the UN, concretely laid the blame on Russia of the deadliest single airstrike that killed over 33 of those. Yet, President Erdoğan chose simply to accept dry condolences from his Russian counterpart Putin. 

The Moscow Protocol puts the task on Ankara’s shoulders of stopping the armed militia like the HTS and the Turkey backed SNA from endangering traffic on that road to be jointly controlled. By the same token, while effectively offering the use of the road on a plate to Damascus, it allocates the burden of preventing the SAA to take it over and make a northbound push to Russia. A fragile lull clenched thru a temporary deal, in short. 

It is all the more confusing that when the Russians tabled a paper at the UNSC, we hear the story from US Special Envoy Jeffrey, that Turkey did not “clear” it leading the U.S. delegation to effectively sink the Russian proposal without a vote is taken. So does Ankara refuse ownership of the protocol? Is there a lack of communication and coordination between New York and Ankara? It is hardly probable but we do not know. 

If one front where Turkey faces Russia is Idlib, the second one is Tripoli. It was a busy week for General Hafter who concluded a flying visit to Paris and Berlin where he was received by the top executive leaders of those two European heavy weights Mr. Macron and Ms. Merkel. According to leaked information Hafter would have been encouraged to open an escrow account hence circumventing the obligation to deposit the oil monies to the GNA central bank. The renewed vigour and frequency of LNA attacks towards Tripoli and the telling silence of the Europeans is enough proof one is led to believe that Hafter is in high spirits after his Paris-Berlin tour. 

Erdoğan had repeatedly called Hafter a coupist, a mercenary, a legionnaire, a terrorist and illegitimate. It seems Mr. Hafter is intent on gaining his legitimacy at bayonet point all the while the cost of the tripolitanian adventure exponentially increases for Ankara. The GNA ports are becoming increasingly difficult to reach for Turkey’s logistics support and the safety of storage is threatened. And, no news from Mr. Putin that Wagner is about to pack up and leave. 

A third ill-fated, ill-planned, ill-executed operation is the so-called “opening” Turkish borders and “unleashing” the four million membesr of the resident Syrian migrant community towards Europe via Greece -interestingly via only Greece and not Bulgaria. It now so appears that around only 5000 made it to the islands by the Aegean and only another 5000 made it across the Maritsa River. Some 15000 were stranded in the no-man’s land and according to the NYT these were bussed at the dead of the night back to Istanbul. 

Syrians remained put where they are, proving that they are now definitely part of Turkey’s society. The Interior Minister Soylu has regularly inspected the Greek front and sent Police Special Forces fortifications to oversee that operations were going according to plan. He had the nasty habit of scolding journalists and offered an increasing number of migrants (the last count was 170.000 if I am not mistaken) but is nowhere to be seen since a while now perhaps due to other tasks like the corona pandemic keeping him busy. 

On Tuesday, the same Macron-Merkel duo who received Hafter were expected in Istanbul unless it is decided that meeting will be changed to video-conference. They would be calmer than the last couple weeks as more IDPs are squeezed inside Idlib and did not make it across to Turkey, as Hafter is on the offensive and as the Greek border held with their help. They will have the stronger hand on the negotiating table. 

As for Ankara, by my tally its diplomatic balance sheet is negative on all these three fronts. I may be blamed as an alarmist but I am afraid nothing short of a “tabula rasa” approach will save the day. Reporting is curbed, analysing is tamed, henceforth we will keep digging further and further the hole that we are all standing in.             

*at war, as at war https://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/%C3%A0_la_guerre_comme_%C3%A0_la_guerre