AMMAN — On March 5, Turkey and Russia reached an agreement on the “stabilization of the situation in the Idlib de-escalation area.” The agreement came after months of escalation came to a head with the Turkish “Operation Spring Shield” against government forces and its allied militias on March 1, in response to air raids that resulted in the death of 34 Turkish soldiers in Idlib province on February 27.
The Agreement’s Content
According to the agreement—published in Russian, Turkish and English, though notably not in Arabic—Ankara and Moscow agreed to:
- Cease all military actions along the line of contact in the Idlib De-escalation area starting at dawn on March 6.
- The establishment of a security corridor 6 kilometers deep to the north and 6 kilometers deep to the south around the Latakia-Aleppo international highway, also known as the ‘M4’.
- On March 15, joint Turkish-Russian patrols will begin along highway M4 from the village of Tronba (2 km to the west from Saraqeb) to the Ain aI-Hoor area.
According to the Turkish Foreign Minister, Mevlut Cavusoglu, the Turkish military will patrol the northern side of the security corridor while Russian forces patrol the southern side.
International and regional reactions
International and regional actors have had different reactions to the Russian-Turkish agreements, despite the fact that it ended hostilities in Idlib, which displaced more than a million Syrians.
The United Nations: UN secretary-general, Antonio Guterres, welcomed the agreement and expressed hope that it “will lead to an immediate and lasting cessation of hostilities that ensures the protection of civilians in northwest Syria.”
The United States: The US Department of State expressed support for “the Turkey-Russia agreement for a cease-fire in Idlib, which we hope will eliminate a very dangerous situation and alleviate the terrible humanitarian crisis that was caused by the attacks of Assad’s regime, Russia, Iran and Hezbollah forces.” Washington, however, blocked Russian efforts to endorse the agreement by the UN security council, saying it such a move was “premature.”
The European Union: The High Representative of the EU for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, Josep Borrell, said that “the cease-fire is good news” and “a precondition to increase humanitarian help for the people in Idlib.”
France: despite being a member of the European Union, France expressed skepticism over the agreement as it lacks clarity regarding several issues, especially the withdrawal from the international (M4) and (M5) highways. Also, while the agreement refers to political and humanitarian support, the mechanisms for such support are unclear.
The United Kingdom: the UK expressed reservations about the agreement, as there are still, according to the British Ambassador to the UN Karen Pierce, a lot of questions about how the agreement will work. Who will monitor it? What is happening west of Aleppo? And critically has the Syrian government formally signed on, and will the Syrian government be following the provisions of the cease-fire?”
Iran: there was no official direct comment on the agreement from Iran, Damascus’s closest ally and one of the three guarantors of the Astana talks, in addition to Turkey and Russia.
The Syrian reaction
The Syrian Government: In a phone call with Russian President Vladimir Putin, Bashar al-Assad welcomed the Russian-Turkish agreement. Further, Assad’s political and media advisor, Buthaina Shaaban, said that “if the agreement is implemented, Syrian forces would recapture the cities of Jisr al-Shughour and Arihah, and the M4 international highway would be open again.”
The Syrian National Army: Armed Syrian opposition groups affiliated with the Turkish-backed Syrian National Army have not announced an official stance on the agreement. However, Mustafa Sejari, head of the Political Office of al-Mutasem Brigade, tweeted that the “Moscow agreement is a temporary truce” and is an “opportunity for us to focus on internal affairs.”
HTS: In a statement, Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS), the dominant armed group in northwest Syria, thanked the Turkish government for its “clear support for the Syrian revolution.” The group, however, said that this agreement is “tainted by ambiguity and unclear statements that allow the Russian occupier to make use of it for new aggression. It also contains provisions that cannot be applied at all, but are rather an insult to the blood of martyrs and the sacrifices made over ten years.”
This report was originally published in Arabic and translated into English by Lauren Remaley