Turkey and Russia are inching toward war in Syria after an attack on Turkish positions in the war-torn nation's Idlib province killed at least 29 Turkish soldiers yesterday.
President Recep Tayyip Erdogan held a crisis meeting with his top security officials after Turkey's military suffered its biggest single-day losses in an airstrike on their forces in Syria. Turkey will hit "all regime targets" using ground and air forces in retaliation, Mr Erdogan's office said after the meeting.
Turkey repeated calls on Western allies for backing in the wake of the clashes, with Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu speaking to Nato secretary-general Jens Stoltenberg. Turkey has urged the US and EU powers to increase their support in the face of attacks on Turkish soldiers by Syrian forces operating under Russian air cover.
But Mr Erdogan's efforts to drum up aid from the North Atlantic alliance that could strengthen his position have come to naught as he tried to persuade Russia's Vladimir Putin to drop support for the regime in Damascus.
At stake is not only Turkey's national security but also millions of Syrians who are likely to seek refuge in Turkey and in Europe as they escape Idlib, the last rebel stronghold in Syria. The latest attack makes it even more difficult for Turkey to prevent Syrian migrants from seeking refuge elsewhere, a senior Erdogan ally said, signalling growing frustration with European inaction.
Tim Ash, a strategist at BlueBay Asset Management in London, described the latest attack as a "major escalation". "Turkey and Russia could be on the brink of actual war. It has been coming for a while. Where is Nato?"
Turkish soldiers were stationed at several outposts in Idlib under a 2017 agreement with Russia and Iran to monitor a combat-free zone. Bashar Al-Assad's forces have intensified attacks on rebel positions in the province in recent weeks, with some Turkish posts having been encircled.
Mr Erdogan has pledged to push Syrian forces should they fail to lift their siege on Turkish posts by the end of this month and lobbied US and European powers to bring pressure to bear on both Syria and Russia.
Yesterday's attack - the single deadliest incident suffered by Turkey, which maintain's Nato's second-largest army, in the course of its campaign in Syria - raises the stakes significantly.
Since the US withdrew its forces in October, war-torn Syria has become a big-power struggle between Russia and Turkey.
Turkey, already the biggest host of refugees with more than 3.5 million Syrians accepted, says it can't take any more if the Russian-backed attacks in Idlib unleash another wave.