By Arab News
By Menekse Tokyay
Amid the ongoing bloodshed in Syria’s last rebel-held stronghold of Idlib, Turkey and Russia finally agreed a new ceasefire following a meeting in Moscow on March 5.
The meeting lasted almost six hours, signaling a tense negotiation process between powers supporting different sides in the Syrian conflict, now approaching its ninth year.
In a joint statement, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Russian President Vladimir Putin announced the establishment of a security corridor of 12 kilometers (km) in width, straddling the M4 highway running through the province.
No mention was made about the other strategic M5 highway, or whether regime forces would retreat behind the current Turkish observation post line.
Turkey would retaliate with full force if it came under Syrian attack, Erdogan added.
Ryan Bohl, Middle East and North Africa analyst at geopolitical intelligence platform Stratfor, said the announcement would mean that Turkey accepted Syria’s territorial gains in Idlib as permanent.
“Ankara is accepting a smaller zone of influence in Idlib overall so that it can get on track with a de-escalation process with Russia, Syria, and Iran,” he told Arab News.
According to the deal, joint patrols between Russia and Turkey will also start by March 15, along the M4 from the settlement of Trumba, 2 km west of Saraqib, to Ain-Al-Havr.
Bohl thinks that the deal was as good as Turkey could manage in current circumstances.
“Further military escalations put Turkish troops at risk of a fight with Russia. It has managed to successfully punish the Syrian army, so from that standpoint it has a victory to take home to Turkish citizens. But it hasn’t really reversed many of the key territorial gains Assad has made especially around Saraqib,” he said.
Data from Turkish polling firm Metropoll shortly before Turkey launched a military operation into Idlib revealed that the Turkish government didn’t have the majority of the public on side: Only 48.8 percent of people thought Turkish Armed Forces should not have been sent to northern Syria.
Danny Makki, an independent Syria analyst, doesn’t expect a serious offensive in Idlib for now, because Russia and Turkey would focus on maintaining this deal.
“But in the long term it will be hard to stop the fighting,” he told Arab News. This will be the 14th ceasefire that has been declared in Idlib since 2018.
“The M5 is not part of the agreement seemingly and that is the first major Turkish concession. While stopping the day-to-day fighting is a hard ask, both sides have put considerable consideration into this agreement, so it’s a priority to be held up,” he said.
Nicholas Danforth, senior visiting fellow at the German Marshall Fund of the United States, thinks that Turkey’s escalation in Idlib has partially checked the regime’s advance, but had not fundamentally changed the dynamics of the conflict.
“In the new deal that was brokered between Turkey and Russia, Damascus kept the territory it gained, while Ankara prevented it from gaining any more for now. Moscow still has its mediation role to play,” he told Arab News.