Idlib: Who Has Benefits from Putin-Erdogan Agreement?

Photo: TASS

On September 17, Russian President Vladimir Putin and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan reached an agreement on not implementing a military operation in the Syrian city of Idlib.

The parties specifically agreed to create a demilitarized zone at the contact line between the government troops and the opposition in Idlib until 15 October, at a depth of 15-20 km. The latter will be under the control of Turkish subdivisions of patrols and Russian military police. Thus, the parties tried to exclude direct contacts between the armed opposition, terrorist groups, and the Syrian government troops on the other hand.

According to Erdogan, the Russian-Turkish agreement around Idlib is meant to prevent humanitarian disaster in the region. Certainly, large-scale military operations in Idlib would have led to a large flow of refugees to neighboring Turkey, and civilian casualties, but it should be noted that the agreement is first of all important for Turkey because it allows Ankara to maintain its influence in Idlib.

This state is considered to be the last stronghold of terrorist groups in Syria and the so-called armed opposition, and the establishment of Damascus control over it is of great importance for the establishment of a final peace in the country. In Idlib, according to various data, more than 20,000 militants are concentrated, most of which are supported by Turkey in Syria. Thus, with the Sochi agreement, Turkey has had the opportunity to retain its influence in Idlib, pledging that in that region it would have to fight against terrorist groups, such as Jabhat al-Nusra.

With this agreement, in fact, Russia and Turkey overcame their dispute over Syria. Moreover, Russia did not cancel military action against the militants in Idlib but delayed it for indefinite time. If the militants from Idlib continue to carry out attacks on the Syrian government troops, or Turkey will not divide the terrorists and the opposition and disassociate them, Russia will have reason to start action in Idlib.

It should be noted that this Russian-Turkish agreement is beneficial to the West as well, particularly to the United States. The latter also strongly opposed the joint operation of the Syrian government troops  in Idlib because the states also have their own sponsors. The downfall of Idlib would mean that the United States is out of the process of the Syrian conflict.

In conclusion, the Sochi agreement at least temporarily prevented the resumption of large-scale operations in Syria and the new humanitarian crisis, enabling Turkey to maintain its influence in Idlib. At the same time, the Sochi agreement gave Russia an opportunity in its efforts to settle the Syrian conflict in cooperation with the Turkish authorities opposing the Bashar Assad regime.