Turkey, Russia express hope for ceasefire in Idlib ahead of key meet
Smoke billows above the rebel-controlled village of Sarmin near the regime-held town of Saraqeb, in the eastern part of the Idlib province in northwestern Syria, on March 3, 2020, during air-strikes by pro-regime forces. (AFP Photo)
Turkey and Russia have expressed hope that a much-anticipated meeting of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and Russian President Vladimir Putin would lead to a ceasefire in Idlib province of Syria where tension has enormously escalated in the last week after Syria killed 34 Turkish troops in an aerial attack on Feb. 28.
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 on March 5 in Moscow.
The Moscow meeting will be the third in-person encounter of Erdoğan and Putin since early January to find a lasting ceasefire in Idlib province of Syria where the regime forces backed by Russia have intensified military operations. More than a million Syrians have flocked to the Turkish border recently, prompting concerns of a new refugee influx.
Tension on the field worsened after deliberate attacks by the regime forces against the Turkish troops in the enclave which resulted in the killing of 34 troops in a single aerial attack. Turkey, in response, 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 said the results of the Moscow meeting will be announced through a joint press conference with Putin. 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 solutions,” 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.
“Our expectation from Russia as a guarantor country is to fulfill its responsibilities, stop the regime’s attacks and use its influence over the regime to return to the borders set in the Sochi agreement,” he said.
‘Kremlin hopeful too’
The Kremlin said on Wednesday it hoped President Putin and President Erdoğan would be able to agree on a set of joint measures for Idlib when they meet for talks in Moscow on Thursday.
“We plan to discuss the Idlib crisis... We expect to reach a common understanding on the crisis, the cause of the crisis, the harmful effects of the crisis and arrive at a set of necessary joint measures,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters.
Turkey and Russia have long been accusing 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.
Erdoğan and Putin will, therefore, try to find a solution to the problem in the field although there are sharp disagreements between the two sides over the future of Idlib. Turkey wants to set up a safe zone 30 kilometers deep inside Syria where it can host more than a million Syrians. Russia will seek to keep the zone as narrow as possible in order to strengthen the Syrian regime’s influence in the entire province.