The war in Syria: a Russian-Turkish agreement to cease fire in Idlib

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Putin and Erdogan

Image source
EPA

Image caption

The agreement came after six-hour talks between Putin and Erdogan in Moscow

Turkey and Russia agreed to a ceasefire from midnight on Thursday – Friday local time in Idlib, northwestern Syria, in an attempt to avoid a major escalation.

In Moscow, Russian President Vladimir Putin and his Turkish counterpart Recep Tayyip Erdogan also agreed to establish a security corridor and joint patrols.

36 Turkish soldiers were killed in Idlib last month, during an attack by Russian-backed Syrian government forces.

Turkey, which supports opposition fighters, responded by attacking Syrian government forces.

This incident raised fears of a direct military conflict between Turkey and Russia.

What about the ceasefire?

The agreement was announced after about six hours of talks between Putin and Erdogan in the Russian capital.

The parties said that the agreement included:

  • The cease-fire starts from 00:01 local time on Friday (22:01 on Thursday with Greenwich arrest) along the confrontation line.
  • The establishment of a security corridor six kilometers north and six kilometers south of the main international highway in Idlib “M4”, which links the cities controlled by the Syrian government in Aleppo and Lattakia.
  • Joint Russian-Turkish patrols to be deployed along the M4 road, beginning March 15.

Image source
Getty Images

Image caption

Idlib – the last bastion of the Syrian opposition fighters – has witnessed a military escalation in recent weeks

Despite the agreed ceasefire, Erdogan cautioned that Turkey maintains a “response of all its might to any attack” by the forces of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

Meanwhile, Putin said he hoped this agreement would “serve as a basis for ending the fighting in the Idlib de-escalation zone in Idlib, and to end the suffering of the civilian population.”

The BBC’s diplomatic correspondent, Jonathan Marcus, said that basic questions remain outstanding, including how long the truce will hold, and whether Syrian government forces or Turkish forces will withdraw to the designated areas, and what will be the fate of the massive number of refugees.

Our correspondent says it is not clear whether the Assad regime and its Russian supporters have given up the idea of ​​regaining control of the entire Idlib, and whether this represents a permanent change in their policies or is it only a temporary ploy to reduce the current tension with Ankara.

In 2018, Russia and Turkey agreed to a ceasefire in the de-escalation areas in Idlib, but this agreement was often violated.

Idlib is the last governorate controlled by opposition fighters in Syria.

Analysis: Jeremy Bowen, BBC Middle East editor:

Russia and Turkey have completely opposing interests in Syria. And they were about to confront. This possibility will remain automatically if their strategies continue in the same way.

Russia intervened while the Assad regime was fighting to remain and provided military support to enable the regime to regain control of most of the Syrian areas controlled by opposition fighters.

For President Putin, the Syrian war was a vital part of Russia’s restoration of power in the Middle East and beyond.

Turkey is the most persistent supporter of the militias fighting the Assad regime.

President Erdogan views Idlib province as a legitimate security interest and wants Turkey to be the strongest power in the region.

Presidents Putin and Erdogan have proven that they can talk to each other.

Together with Iran, they support an attempt to start a peace process in Syria. Russia has sold to Turkey an advanced air defense system. After the cease-fire that held in one form or another in Idlib, Russia and its allies returned to launching attacks during the winter.

But the fighting near the Turkish border, which hurts targets that both sides regard as vital, has led to Russia being attacked by a key NATO member. This represented a serious development.

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