Russia and Turkey reached a ceasefire agreement starting at midnight on Thursday, March 5 in the Syrian province of Idlib, the contested area between Moscow and Ankara. Both Russian President Vladimir Putin and his Turkish counterpart Recep Tayip Erdogan hoped that the deal would end a military escalation in Syria’s rebel base.
However, many questions still linger about how long the agreement will last and whether it will end the humanitarian crisis in Syria, especially in Idlib, the only rebel-controlled region.
How Was the Agreement Reached?
Both leaders held talks for six hours in Moscow before reaching an agreement on the joint patrol along the M4, starting from March 15 as BBC reported.The m4 is the highway which connects the Syrian government-controlled Latakia and Aleppo.
In September 2018, Putin and Erdogan agreed to declare Idlib as a “de-escalation zone,” meaning that the province is a buffer zone between Russia and Turkey with a precise control line. However, it did not stop the clash between both countries, which support opposing groups in Syria.
Erdogan said the truce aimed at preventing a humanitarian crisis from getting worse, as AFP quoted. However, Ankara emphasized it still has rights to retaliate Damascus’ attack. Previously, in a conference, Putin said the deal would be a foundation to end the nine-year civil war, adding that the agreement would stop civilians’ suffering.
“I express hope that these agreements will serve as a good basis for a cessation of military activity in the Idlib de-escalation zone [and] stop the suffering of the peaceful population and the growing humanitarian crisis,” Putin said.
How Did the War in Syria Start?
The conflict in Syria stemmed from Syrians’ deep discontent with the Assad regime due to economic hardship and authoritarian rule. Bashar Al-Assad took power in 2000 after his father, Hafiz Al-Assad, died in that year. Hafiz was in power from 1971 to 2000. The Arab Spring that overthrew governments in Tunisia and Egypt in 2011 affected Syria too. The peaceful mass rally turned violent when the Assad regime detained and shot protesters.
Russia and Turkey in Syria
Foreign interventions in Syria have made the situation more complicated, given that every country has its interest. Russia and Iran support Assad. Moscow has an airbase in Latakia and a naval base in the port city of Tartous. Tehran supplies arms and military equipment to Assad’s troops.
Turkey backs opposition sides aimed at ousting Bashar al-Assad. When Bashar’s father was in office, he supported the minority Kurds in the cabinet. Turkey claims Kurds as a threat to its national security due to the year-ong conflict with the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which demanded a separation from Ankara. Kurdistan is the fourth largest ethnic group in the Middle East.
The exodus of Syrian refugees has become another headache to Erdogan. The incumbent president said that Turkey could not afford to accommodate Syrian refugees, adding that more than 80,000 Syrians in Idlib sought refuge in areas near the Turkish border.
Turkey has been home to around 3.7 million Syrian refugees for about eight years. Based on the agreement with the European Union (E.U) in 2016, Turkey agrees to block refugees from flooding Europe by receiving 6 billion Euro assistance and visa exemptions for Turkish people.
The Ceasefire Agreement Won’t Be an Immediate Solution
Some experts cast their doubt over the agreement’s role in ending violence in Syria, which has been going on for nine years and killed hundreds of thousands so far. Fears that the deal will produce a new cycle of violence is understandable as the truce may give more time for Turkish, Russian, and Syrian troops to recover following the death of 35 Turkish soldiers in Idlib.
The truce may give Turkey more time to return refugees abandoned at home with a Turkish security guarantee, which will be seen as Erdogan’s victory as Middleeasteye.net reported.
As Turkey stated, it may retaliate to Syrian attacks, the truce may unlikely to stop the bloodshed in the last rebel stronghold in Syria. As long as foreign countries and Syria’s legitimate government are competing to exert their influence, the humanitarian crisis will likely continue.