The impact of Turkey’s fight with Syria
Moscow and Ankara agree Idlib ceasefire - but analysts fear truce may prove short-lived
A ceasefire in the northwest Syrian province of Idlib has come into effect under a deal struck by Russia and Turkey following more than six hours of talks in Moscow.
Announcing the truce, which began at midnight on Thursday, Russian President Vladimir Putin said: “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.”
His Turkish counterpart, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, promised support for “Syrians in need”.
But many analysts are predicting that the deal will not last long. Sky News’ Moscow correspondent Diana Magnay warns that “ceasefires in Syria tend to be short-lived affairs and there’s no reason this will be any different”.
Indeed, Russia and Turkey agreed to turn Idlib into a de-escalation zone back in 2018, seven years after Syria’s popular uprising turned into civil war, but violence quickly resumed.
All the same, the new deal offers hope for the three million Syrians believed to be trapped in the province, the last opposition-controlled region in Syria.
The fighting has been “catastrophic” for the local population, says The Guardian.
More than 900,000 people have been displaced since the forces of Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad began an offensive in December backed by Russian air strikes - the largest wave of displacement since the war began, in 2011.
Many of those displaced are living in makeshift camps at Idlib’s border with Turkey, which already hosts 3.6 million Syrian refugees and is refusing to take any more. That refusal, in turn, has sparked concern in Europe of a renewed influx of migrants.
Meanwhile, 60 Turkish troops have been killed in the region since last month alone.
The violence has also resulted in the deaths of tens of thousands of civilians. At least 16 people killed by Russian air strikes while sheltering in a farm near the Idlib town of Maarat Misrin shortly before the ceasefire talks began on Thursday.
An eye-witness told The Times: “It was horrific, tens of people, mostly women and children, were there. The dead bodies were everywhere."
On a political level, the fighting has caused tension within Turkey’s parliament, with a fist fight erupting this week as opposition parties challenged Erdogan’s Syria strategy.
Last summer, Ankara’s refusal to cede ground to Assad’s army in Idlib was blamed for the continuation of the civil war, which is believed to have claimed the lives of as many as 400,000 people.
On a wider scale, the crisis has also brought Turkey perilously close to war with Russia. However, Moscow is keen to maintain strong ties with Turkey in order to offset US influence in the region, whatever the fate of the new peace deal.