The Idlib crisis reached another turning point after the signing of the Turkish-Russian agreement last week during President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s visit to Moscow. Reports indicated that the challenging process of negotiations carried on for more than six hours. The end result of the negotiations generated a lot of debates regarding its provisions and the potential roadblocks in its implementation.
Turkey made sacrifices and spent a lot of effort to broker the cease-fire agreement. This can be a very good opportunity for other international actors – who chose to ignore the humanitarian catastrophe taking place in Syria – to play their part now. The lack of support from international actors, in the handling of the humanitarian dimension of the conflict, caused many problems for the Turkish government. The issues arising from the migrant crisis have become less sustainable for the country over time. The lack of interest toward a political resolution and ignoring the Syrian crisis did not protect the international community either. Now with the cease-fire in place, there is a window of opportunity for them to get more involved in order to bring a lasting solution to the conflict.
In terms of its advantages, the agreement, if implemented efficiently, can bring great relief to the civilians living in Idlib. For the last several months, constant airstrikes on civilian targets and infrastructure in Idlib, made it extremely hard for the city’s residents to live peacefully. The cease-fire will put an end to the atrocities committed by the Bashar Assad regime in the towns and villages of Idlib. Freezing of violence will protect the lives of civilians and will halt the movement of the internally displaced (IDP) people in this part of Syria.
The increasing number of IDP heading toward the Turkish-Syrian border created one of the most significant humanitarian disasters in the Syrian crisis since its beginning. According to international nongovernmental organizations, more than a million people were forced to move to Idlib in the last two months. The Assad regime continued to implement its long-term strategy of depopulating areas with an opposition majority in Idlib as well. With this cease-fire, the regime will have to put an end to this policy. Now efforts can be made to start a reconstruction process that is more efficient, sustainable and will provide long-term humanitarian assistance to the people of Idlib.
Secondly, the regime understands now that any violation of the cease-fire would generate another wave of Turkish operations against the regime targets. The Turkish superiority in airstrikes was evident during the operations in the last week. Even Russian President Vladimir Putin asserted that the Syrian forces suffered major casualties due to the Turkish strikes.
This factor plays a great role with regard to the questions about the potential regime violation of the cease-fires. It is well known that the cease-fire agreements were violated multiple times by the regime. This situation generated question marks about the feasibility of the cease-fire agreements.
In fact, by violating the lines drawn in the Sochi agreement, the regime once more tried to adopt a similar policy. However, the introduction of the Turkish airpower significantly changed the dynamics on the ground. The presence of Turkish troops and air force would be the ultimate enforcer of the agreement. As Erdoğan stated, Turkey will use force when it is necessary in order to stop the violence if the regime chooses to resume it.
[Daily Sabah, 6 March 2020]