End of Idlib Accord?

End of Idlib Accord?

Supported by Russia, the Syrian regime continues its operations in Idlib province which started in late April. The level of violence is increasing day-by-day. Assad forces took control of some villages and towns from HTS.

The attacks focused on three areas. The main targets are Khan Shaykhoun and Ma’arat al-Nu’man towns, both on the M5 motorway, which connects Hama and Aleppo. If the regime forces control these two towns, the road to Aleppo will be opened and the country’s second most important city will come into full control of Damascus. This will strengthen the hand of Syrian leader Bashar Al Assad west of Euphrates River. The third target of the operations seems to be the area of the south of Jisrash –Shugur.

Russia and Ba’ath rulers want to control main highways fully before taking over the city of Idlib and strengthen logistical lines between Damascus and the rest of the country.

During these operations, Turkish observation point 10 and Jabal Zaviye were attacked a couple of times injuring two Turkish soldiers. Incidents on April 29 and May 4 started a debate over the security of Turkish troops in Syria.

Meanwhile, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo met with his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov in the Black Sea town of Sochi. Two ministers discussed many bilateral issues including the latest developments in Syria, especially in Idlib. Pompeo said, “it is time to cooperate with you.”

As Russian and American diplomats were talking about the issues, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu met with Head of Syrian Opposition Delegation Chairman Nasr Hariri. Çavuşoğlu said that almost all the members of the constitution committee, which are expected to combine Astana and Geneva processes, have been agreed upon. But Germany, France and Italy wrote a letter to the Donald Trump administration and said that they will reject any delegation which has been formed by Turkey, Russia and Iran. All these developments took place under the shadow of the Turkish-American S-400 crisis.

This complex situation shows us that actors are taking steps to influence others, and we are heading to the moment of truth. The main question here is in which direction will Turkey move? Will Ankara continue its balanced policy by keeping its relations with Russia or move closer to its uneasy alliance with the United States? This question is vital for the future of the region.

The answer to this question might help us understand the situation: Does the attack on a Turkish observation point in Syria mean the end of the Idlib Accord between Turkey and Russia? Can Turkey and Russia find a middle ground again?

Turkey and Russia signed The Memorandum on Stabilisation of the Situation in Idlib on Sept. 17, 2018. The two countries agreed on taking all effective measures for ensuring sustainable a ceasefire within the Idlib de-escalation area. According to the memorandum, the demilitarized zone would go 15-20 kilometers deep in the de-escalation area and move traffic to and from Aleppo, and both Latakia and Hama would be reopened by the end of the year.

This agreement has not materialized fully and did not work perfectly. But there is a difference between the failure of implementation and ending the agreement. For this reason, at this very moment, the understanding of the parties is important. President Recep Erdoğan and Russian President Vladimir Putin talked on the phone recently and revealed that they intend to continue cooperating in Syria. But Russia is pushing for more in Idlib, while the United States is pressuring for the delay of S-400s, leaving Turkey smaller room for maneuvering.