A deal in Moscow brings about a fragile ceasefire
A much-anticipated meeting between Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and Russian President Vladimir Putin has produced three additional measures for the normalization of the situation in Syria’s chaotic province of Idlib.
First, they agreed to cease all military actions along the line of contact in the de-escalation area of Idlib. It is not the proper ceasefire that Turkey has long been looking for. Erdoğan stressed that Turkey and Russia would continue to work for a lasting ceasefire in the province.
Putin made it clear that the anti-terrorism struggle in the enclave would not be suspended. The Syrian regime and Russian forces’ continued aerial attacks – conducted as they are without distinguishing civilian from terrorist – will surely make the ceasefire a very fragile one.
Indeed, many experts are concerned that the ceasefire will not last long.
The second measure is the establishment of a security corridor 6 kilometers deep to the north and 6 kilometers to the south from the M4 highway that links Aleppo and Latakia. The Sochi Agreement of September 2018 stipulated the opening of the M4
and M5 highways to traffic by the year 2018 – a provision that had to be fulfilled by Turkey.
The deal envisions the opening of the M4 under Turkish and Russian control but does not mention the M5 highway, which links Aleppo and Damascus. This is interpreted as Turkish recognition of Syrian control of the M5 highway.
The two defense ministers will continue to work on the details as to how the security corridor will function. It remains to be seen whether the Syrian army will be able to use this highway for its logistical and operational purposes. If that’s the case, the deal will permit Russian-Syrian penetration, even if limited, into the north of Idlib.
The third is about the start of joint Turkish-Russian patrols along the M4 from Trumba to Ain al-Havr. The settlement of Trumba is just 2 kilometers to the west of Saraqib, one of the most strategic locations where the M4 and M5 meet. Russian military police took control of this city earlier this week, and the Moscow deal confirms Saraqib as a Russian- and Syrian-controlled town.
The Turkish side has inserted the need to protect civilians and civilian infrastructure against the regime’s aggression while Russia has underscored the importance of eliminating all radical terror groups as designated by the U.N. Security Council.
The deal does not mention the need for a safe or buffer zone along the Turkish-Syrian border, although this had been one of the top Turkish demands.
Turkey will continue to host more than a million Syrians and will hope that the cessation of military actions will slow down the humanitarian tragedy.
It’s understood that the Turkish observation posts will remain in the demilitarized area of Idlib, but officials underline that this is only “for now.” Turkey does not plan to withdraw the troops that it deployed after Syrian attacks intensified, but it has to tolerate the presence of the Syrian army under its nose.
In short, the deal has just secured a temporary, fragile ceasefire while securing control of the M4 and M5 highways for the use of the Russian-Syrian duo. The deal has left so many contentious issues unresolved amid hopes that they will be addressed by future talks between Turkish and Russian technocrats.
Beyond that, the Moscow deal has shown that Turkey and Russia do still
have room to compromise for the sake of their multidimensional bilateral ties.
The Moscow deal comes after Turkey lost around 60 troops in just a month while the Syrian army has taken a major blow from the Turkish army.
This should provide a wakeup call for all parties to realize that there is no military solution to the ongoing problem. Continuing to pursue a military solution will only result in more lives lost and more tragedies.