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Russia Sending Warships to Syria Amid Major Escalation in Idlib Battle

Russia on Friday announced that it would send two warships to waters off the coast of Syria, a day after strikes attributed to Assad regime forces killed more than 30 Turkish soldiers in Idlib Province. According to Arab media, Turkish retaliatory strikes against military installations have since killed at least 16 Syrian troops. The Syrian army, backed by Russian air power, has for months been waging a campaign to retake the region from Turkish-supported Islamists, many with ties to al Qai’da. The latest incident has further raised tensions between Moscow and Damascus on the one hand, and Ankara, which has deployed thousands of its own troops to northern Syria where it maintains observation posts. Nearly one million civilians have been displaced by the battle in Idlib, many of whom have traveled toward the shared border with Turkey, which is already housing some four million Syrians. On Friday, a senior Turkish official said that his country would no longer stop Syrian refugees from reaching Europe, a threat being construed as an attempt to pressure the West to intervene diplomatically by convincing Russian President Vladimir Putin to agree to a cease-fire. In this respect, a US State Department official reasserted that “we stand by our NATO ally Turkey and continue to call for an immediate end to this despicable offensive by the Assad regime, Russia, and Iranian-backed forces.” NATO members on Friday will convene an emergency meeting to discuss the crisis in Idlib.