"We have fought Russia 16 times in the past, and we will fight it again," Turkish adviser to President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Mesut Hakki Casin, has warned after Thursday's dramatic escalation involving the deaths of some 33 Turkish soldiers in Idlib via airstrike, in the single deadliest day for Turkey in Syria throughout the entirety of the war.
NATO held an emergency meeting at Turkey's request, while the Trump administration has vaguely responded that the US "stands with Turkey", but it increasingly looks like Ankara will go it alone in terms of its adventurism inside Idlib, after NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg merely offered "condolences" and expressed "solidarity" with Turkey. Regardless, Turkey has vowed escalation, reports The Washington Post:
Turkey vowed Friday to escalate military actions in Syria’s Idlib province after 33 of its soldiers were killed in an airstrike it blamed on Syria, as the risk of a major military confrontation between Russia and Turkey in the region increased sharply.
Widespread early reports said it was a Russian strike, but in a sign that Ankara doesn't want to confront the more formidable Russian Air Force, it has blamed Syrian forces while restricting social media access to its own citizens, likely in an effort to allay domestic political pressure on Erdogon to "do something" to confront Russia.
Erdogan has even reportedly told President Trump that Syrian "regime forces" were behind that attack and that Turkey has responded. But Turkey's defense minister did have this to say of Russia's role: “This attack occurred even though the locations of our troops had been coordinated with Russian officials in the field,” yet stopping short of saying Russian jets were behind it.
Moscow for its part has remained unflinching after it appears to have set a clear 'red line' in Turkey:
"Turkish soldiers were acting inside combat units of terrorist groups," Russia's Defense Ministry (MoD) said in a statement in response to Thursday's events.
While Russian defense officials have stopped short of owning up to being behind the attack, they've defended the "right" to attack terrorists — whether or not Turkish troops are in the vicinity.
Russia’s foreign minister Sergey Lavrov underscored on Friday that “the Syria Army certainly has [the] full right to retaliate and suppress the terrorists.”
Something tells me this wont end here, both sides will continue attacks https://t.co/WsKBgjNJsq— Danny Makki (@Dannymakkisyria) February 28, 2020
He said further according to Russian media:
[Russia] cannot prohibit the Syrian Army from executing the demands written in the UNSC resolutions, which call for an uncompromising fight against terrorism in all its forms.
Meanwhile certain hawkish Congressional leaders like Senators Linsdey Graham and Tom Cotton have urged the administration to back Turkey militarily amid the Syrian-Russian offensive in Idlib.
A number of media pundits and politicians have also begun to talk about Turkey invoking NATO's Article 5, yet apparently ignorant to the fact that the collective defense treaty only applies to attacks on a NATO member's soil — not as it is in this case protection while invading and occupying foreign soil.
Nothing because they can't. Article 5 protects NATO countries from being invaded, not the proxy terrorist forces illegally operating in a third country at the behest of a neo-ottoman dictator. https://t.co/vbL8ivMkUn— Jack Murphy (@JackMurphyRGR) February 27, 2020
For the time being, it appears Turkey will focus its "retaliation" only against the Syrian Army. This looks to have already begun, with Turkey claiming it's taken out scores of Syrian soldiers and convoys in response.
Turkey’s communication director announced in the immediate aftermath of the Thursday strike on Turkish troops: “Turkey puts all known targets of Syrian regime under fire with air, ground fire support elements,” according to Anadolu Agency.