Turkey, Russia agree on ceasefire in Idlib
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin said on March 5 that they have reached agreements that could end fighting in northwest Syria.
Erdoğan, standing alongside Putin after six hours of talks in Moscow, said the cease-fire will come into force in Idlib at midnight.
Underlining that Turkey's military reserves the right to retaliate against any attacks by Syrian regime forces in the region, Erdoğan said that both Ankara and Moscow will work to ensure that aid reaches Syrians in need.
After the leaders' press conference, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu and his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov elaborated on the details of the agreement.
The foreign ministers said that the agreement involves a cease-fire that must be enforced starting at midnight along the existing battle lines.
Turkey and Russia agreed to establish a secure corridor 6 kilometers north and 6 kilometers south from the M4 highway in Idlib, the ministers said. The countries' defense ministers will agree on the parameters of the security corridor within seven days.
According to the agreement, Turkish and Russian forces will begin patrols along the M4 highway on March 15. The patrolling will take place from the Trumba settlement, some 2 kilometers to the west of Saraqib, to the Ain-Al-Havr settlement.
Erdoğan and Putin met in Moscow on March 5 for a one-on-one meeting. After the meeting, the two presidents chaired delegation talks, which included the countries’ foreign and defense ministers and representatives of the intelligence services.
March 5’s meeting was the third face-to-face encounter between Erdoğan and Putin since early January to find a lasting ceasefire in Syria’s Idlib province where regime forces backed by Russia have intensified military operations.
More than 1 million Syrians have flocked to the Turkish border recently, prompting concerns of a new refugee influx.
Tension in the field worsened after deliberate attacks by regime forces against Turkish troops in Idlib which resulted in the killing of 34 troops in a single aerial attack.
At the start of the talks, in his opening remarks in Kremlin, President Vladimir Putin thanked Erdoğan for accepting his invitation for talks on the recent escalation and offered Erdoğan condolences for fallen Turkish soldiers in Idlib.
Direct and personal talks are needed with Turkey to address the aggravated situation in Idlib, Putin said.
“Thank you for coming. There is always something to talk about, but now the situation in a well-known area, Idlib, has escalated so much that it requires our direct and personal conversation,” Putin said.
‘Regime forces suffered great losses’
Putin stated that neither Damascus nor Moscow was aware of the presence of Turkey’s soldiers in the area where the airstrike killed Turkish troops.
“The loss of life is always a great tragedy. Unfortunately, as I told you on the phone, no one, including the Syrian military, knew about their [Turkish soldiers] whereabouts,” he added. Putin went on to say that the Syrian regime forces have suffered great losses in Idlib, the last opposition stronghold in Syria.
“We need to talk about the situation that has developed to date so that nothing like this happens again, and so that it does not destroy the Russian-Turkish relations, which I, and as I know, you too, treat very carefully,” he said.
Erdoğan said the decisions taken at the meeting would ease tensions in the region and in Turkey.
“The problem in the region is great. I know that the eyes of the world are on here right now. The right decisions that we will take today will make the region and our countries comfortable. We are in an era in which Turkish-Russian relations have reached a peak,” Erdoğan said.
Turkey, in response to the deadly attack, launched “Operation Spring Shield” inside Idlib and hit the regime’s air and ground positions.
It said it gave a great blow on the regime forces and “neutralized” more than 3,000 Syrian troops.
Erdoğan told the Turkish media on March 4 that he was expecting “to immediately reach a ceasefire in the region” in his talks with Putin.
'Turkey-Russia deal is crucial’
Echoing Erdoğan, Turkey’s Defense Minister Hulusi Akar expressed his optimism on the Moscow meeting.
“Our views, opinions and demands will be conveyed to Putin by our president at the highest level. A solution will be sought. Our objective is to reach a solution, peaceful and political,” he said.
Akar recalled the problems stemming from the implementation of the Turkey-Russia deal on Idlib and said Turkey is in efforts for the peace, stability and cessation of hostilities in the region.
“Our sincere wish, demand and hope are finding a political solution through negotiations,” the defense minister stated, adding that the Turkish army deployed in Idlib is continuing to fulfill its mission for the peace and stability of the region.
Turkey and Russia have long been accused each other of not abiding by the Sochi Agreement of September 2018 that brought about a ceasefire between the regime and the moderate groups. Turkey blames Syria for violating the ceasefire since May 2019 while Russia claims that Turkey has failed to separate the moderate groups from the radical terror elements.