Heads of the Russian Federation and Turkey have to settle the issue of Idlib
Russian propagandists often artificially inflate any difficulties in relations between Turkey and the Russian Federation, waiting for a new “knife in the back.” On the eve of the next bilateral talks in Moscow, they again spoke of a possible breakdown of the Syrian Idlib agreements. Despite the questions, in reality there are no signs of the looming confrontation between Russia and Turkey, experts say, and the presence of Turkish military patrols in the province is a means of deterring Bashar al-Assad’s ambitions and Iran.
On November 19, the visit of Russian President Vladimir Putin to Istanbul was announced. The official reason is the completion of the construction of the offshore section of the Turkish Stream gas pipeline.
Also, the Russian president is going to discuss with his Turkish counterpart Recep Erdogan “the issues of further development of Russian-Turkish relations and current regional and international issues,” the Kremlin said in a statement. Preparations for the visit are underway – on November 15, Ankara was visited by the special representative of the Russian president for a Syrian settlement, Alexander Lavrentiev, and the deputy head of the Russian Foreign Ministry, Sergey Vershinin. It is noted that they had a conversation with the adviser to the President of Turkey, Ibrahim Kalin, and consultations with the Deputy Foreign Minister of Turkey Sedat Onal – allegedly the central theme of the talks was the Syrian issue, in particular, the situation in Idlib.
On September 17 in Sochi, the presidents of Russia and Turkey agreed to create a demilitarized zone 15–20 km wide in the de-escalation zone by October 15. The agreement was preceded by the buildup of a group of Syrian pro-government forces around the province and the threat of Damascus to launch an offensive.
Despite the Russian-Turkish agreements, exchanges of fire between pro-government groups and the opposition continue. Detachments of the radical structure “Hayat Tahrir al-Sham” (HTS, in January 2017, the Dzhebhat an-Nusra, which was banned in Russia, dissolved in the coalition) continue operations against the forces of the regime, in particular, the militants of the so-called “Red Dressings” – the HTS elite units .
At the same time, the supporters of Assad and the numerous pro-Iranian Shiite groups, both during the offensive and the counterattack, also fire at groups of moderate and radical opposition. The Turkish side asks to provide it with additional time to separate moderate groups from terrorist groups, which requires negotiations and specific measures, and to postpone the planned joint patrols.
Moscow claims that the situation in Idlib has not yet stabilized, and hints at a possible force scenario, Damascus continues to claim that it is ready to return Idlib under the control of Bashar Assad, keeping silent about the shortage of combat-ready troops and the consequences of fighting in the overpopulated province. However, experts believe that it is not in the interests of Russia to disrupt the Sochi agreements on Idlib.
Provocations are still local and do not develop into large-scale clashes. In addition, there are Turkish military patrols in the province, which is a reliable guarantee for maintaining the status quo, Kirill Semenov, head of the Center for Islamic Studies at the Institute for Innovative Development, told News.ru: “Not only radical troops but also Damascus are interested in disrupting agreements. From the point of view of Assad, if the Russian-Turkish agreement on Idlib became possible, then an agreement between Russia and the United States is possible, after which the Kremlin’s comprehensive support for the Syrian regime will decline or even disappear. ” Pro-government forces will continue to try to arrange armed provocations in the demilitarized zone – in their interests as soon as possible to carry out the operation,
A serious argument of the supporters of Assad is the fact that the HTS forces did not leave the demilitarized zone by October 15, but the troops loyal to Damascus are making armed provocations not only against HTS — they are trying to draw into compliance with the opposition opposition groups, confronting Semyonov.
Pro-Iranian formations from Iraq “Liva al-Imam al-Hussein” and others participate in provocations. The radical part of the HTS associated with international jihadist groups is also beneficial to thwart the agreement. “There is no unity in the ranks of the HTS: a substantial part of the fighters who joined the coalition for more opportunistic than ideological reasons, plans to stay in Syria and join moderate opposition groups” under the Turkish umbrella, “so it is profitable for them to maintain the truce,” Semyonov notes.
But there are other forces – militants, related to international terrorism. They make provocations in the hope of arranging a slaughter in Idlib, and then in some way “seeping” through the battle formations in order to resume their activities in other regions of Syria or the Middle East. ”