Turkey, Russia agree on borders of Idlib disarmament zone
This file photo shows Turkey's Defense Minister Hulusi Akar
Turkey’s Defense Ministry has announced that it agreed with Russia on the borders of a disarmament zone inside Syria’s Idlib province.
“Meetings with the Russians delegation were held at the ministry on Sept. 19-21 to discuss the main elements of the execution of the Sochi agreement,” the ministry said in a statement on Sept. 21.
“During the meetings, the borders were determined after considering the geographical structure and settlements in Idlib,” it added.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov confirmed the agreement on Sept. 21, stressing that the decision by Russia and Turkey on Idlib is an intermediate step and the demilitarized zone will prevent the shelling of Syrian troops and the Russian military base in Hmeymim.
“As for the Russian-Turkish agreement on Idlib, it is aimed primarily at eradicating the terrorist threat. This is certainly an intermediate step, because only a demilitarized zone is being created,” Lavrov said during a visit to Sarajevo, stressing that al-Nusra fighters in Idlib should leave the zone by mid-October and all heavy weaponry should be withdrawn from there.
It is now time to "fully maintain ceasefire and focus on political process," according to Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu.
Çavuşoğlu said on Sept. 21 that he would meet with Russian and Iranian counterparts in New York to advance the Syria agenda.
Meanwhile, Turkish and Russian security officials have begun working together on a road map planned within the Sochi deal on Idlib for the separation of radical militants from the moderate opposition and the withdrawal of these groups from the demilitarized zone, presidential spokesperson İbrahim Kalın said on Sept. 21.
Turkey’s National Intelligence Organization (MİT), the Turkish Armed Forces (TSK), and Special Forces are working in coordination with Russia on the field, Kalın said at a press conference.
While avoiding giving details, Kalın said necessary steps will be taken in order to achieve the goals of the deal, which “might include persuading, passivating or other methods.”
Turkey will not allow any terrorist groups in Idlib nor on its border, he added.
Turkey’s aim is to protect civilians, preserve Idlib’s borders within the de-escalation status and to protect the moderate opposition, the presidential spokesperson stated, stressing that the moderate opposition in Syria is crucial for a political settlement in Syria.
The Sochi agreement
The statements came four days after the landmark agreement between Turkey and Russia to establish a disarmament zone of 15-20 kilometers (9.3-12.4 miles) in Idlib, Syria’s last opposition stronghold, following a meeting in Sochi between Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin.
Ankara and Moscow also signed a memorandum of understanding calling for the “stabilization” of Idlib’s de-escalation zone, in which acts of aggression are expressly prohibited.
Under the pact, opposition groups in Idlib will remain in areas in which they are already present, while Russia and Turkey will do joint patrols in the area with a view to preventing renewed fighting.