Russia should heed Turkey’s concerns and proposals on Idlib

Russia should heed Turkey’s concerns and proposals on Idlib

Turkey’s diplomatic campaign to avert a massive operation into the Idlib province of Syria by the Syrian government had begun long before the Tehran summit in which Turkey, Russia and Iran participated on Sept. 7. 

Turkey has long been urging its Astana process partners Russia and Iran that an operation that does not separate civilians from terrorists would only lead to a bloodbath in an already war-torn country. At the same time, it has been trying to create awareness in the international community that much-wider and efficient pressure can be imposed particularly on Russia, the country that has absolute control on the Assad regime.

The Tehran summit has underlined Turkey’s efforts to enhance the ceasefire in Idlib, as well as the Russian-Iranian duo’s reluctance in hearing the concerns voiced by the Turkish government. Although the summit did not produce a result the Turkish government had been hoping for, it helped kick off a wider international awareness on the need for preventing a massive operation into the enclave.

The United Nations Security Council held two separate meetings on Idlib while U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres became much louder in his opposition against Damascus’ attempts of a full-scale offensive. Some permanent members of the U.N. Security Council hailed Turkey’s role while Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu continued his telephone diplomacy with prominent Western partners throughout the week.

In the meantime, sherpas from four countries, Turkey, France, Germany and Russia came together in Istanbul on Sept. 14 to discuss recent developments in the Middle East, especially Idlib and Syria with an objective to look into whether it could bring about a four-way leaders’ summit in the coming weeks.

However, along with its diplomatic campaign to this end, Turkey has not cut its contact with Russia either. As can be recalled, Turkey had introduced a number of proposals to Russia in a bid to distinguish terrorists from civilians and the armed opposition so that there would be no need for a massive operation. The Turkish proposals were about protecting civilians and opposition groups and delivering joint attacks on the jihadist terrorist groups afterwards.

On Sept. 14, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov announced Russia would open humanitarian corridors to allow civilians to flee, while also recalling it would continue to hit terrorists’ facilities in the province. It should be remembered a similar proposal was voiced by U.N. Special Envoy for Syria Staffan de Mistura a couple of weeks ago but that has not been heard by either Syria or Russia.

Therefore, it is important that Russia now proposes humanitarian corridors but it is also equally important that the evacuation of the civilians should be held under U.N. monitoring and with a guarantee by the Syrian regime that they will not be attacked.

In this regard, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Sochi on Sept. 16 is quite important. This meeting would constitute a very good opportunity for Russia to show it cares about the concerns of Turkey and of the international community, especially before the U.N. General Assembly slated for Sept. 23 and 27.

Russia’s understanding of Turkey’s concerns and its readiness to cooperate will surely be very helpful in the future for joint works in securing a viable political settlement to the Syrian question. Russia, who has long been slamming the Trump administration for its lack of diplomatic culture when it comes to resolving problems, should therefore heed what its main partner in the Syrian theater is saying.

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