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February 12, 2020

Turkey's standoff with Russia over Idlib

Talks between Turkey and Russia to stop clashes in Syria's region of Idlib, the last rebel stronghold, ended with no result. The two countries support opposite sides in the conflict, but they also cooperated to de-escalate the situation after a truce was agreed in Sochi. Tensions then reached a new height after 13 Turkish soldiers were killed in their observation posts. As Assad's troops advanced and took over crucial roads and villages, Turkey sent military re-enforcements to protect its troops there. 

Over the last 10 weeks, 700,000 refugees left the region. This is the highest number of displaced civilians in such a short period of time during the last nine years that the civil war in Syria has been raging. Recep Tayyip Erdogan already warned that Turkey has no capacity to take in more refugees on top of the 3.7m it already hosts. 

How far is Turkey ready to go in confronting Russia? Even if some politicians at home suggest Turkey should go fully against the Assad regime, this is unlikely to happen. Turkey has no allies in this matter. On its own the only chance is to raise the stakes with some military interventions for renewing peace talks. This looks like an unstoppable collapse of the last rebel region in Syria.

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February 12, 2020

Watch out for Renzi

Italian politics has a certain now-you-see-it-now-you-don’t quality. Politicians play intricately clever games, often too clever by half. If they succeed, it is usually because the other side has made a tactical error in a game of high-dimensional political chess.

Massimo Franco has a good discussion in Corriere della Sera about the existential question faced by the current coalition. This is how to confront a non-cooperative Matteo Renzi. Should they call his bluff? Is he really going to abandon the coalition at the risk of being wiped out in an ensuing election? Or should they try to ensnare him? What is unsustainable is to allow him to become what Franco calls the fifth column of the government, sometimes siding with the coalition and sometimes with the opposition.

Yesterday, Renzi and his Italia Viva party voted with Matteo Salvini and the other opposition parties to oppose a proposed judicial reform. Beyond this particular issue, which is high on the Agenda of Five Star, is the more principled problem of Renzi himself. The government fears that Renzi could become a source of permanent instability if he continues his current strategy. But forcing Renzi to clarify his position also carries risk.

We see Renzi’s behaviour as internally consistent. He lost the power battle in the PD, but has enough MPs and Senators to deprive the government of a stable majority that could persist until the end of the parliamentary term. We think of Italia Viva as a natural successor, or ally, of Forza Italia. But Renzi knows he has to tread with caution. With the electoral reform, Renzi may be at risk of failing to clear the 5% representation threshold. This is why he will need to consolidate his support and join an alliance. 

We think that Renzi should not be underestimated. He may not have been a successful prime minister. But he is an astute tactician.

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