Mark Sleboda, a foreign affairs and security analyst, joined Radio Sputnik’s Loud and Clear from Moscow on Thursday to discuss the fresh details of Russian President Vladimir Putin and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s agreement following the latter’s trip to Russia and reveal why he believes the ceasefire won’t last long.
Sleboda confirmed to hosts Brian Becker and John Kiriakou that a ceasefire would be taking place beginning at 12 a.m. on Friday.
“Some of the details are that a security corridor will be established 6 kilometers deep to the north and 6 kilometers deep to the south from the M4 highway,” he explained. The M4 highway is a major motorway in Northern Syria that runs from Latakia to Saraqib, the site of a recent pitched battle between Turkish-aligned and Damascus-aligned forces.
Sleboda highlighted that this decision came not long after the M5 highway, which links Damascus to Aleppo and also passes through Saraqib, “was recovered in the last few weeks by the Syrian government and their allies.” Speaking in regard to the M4 motorway, he noted that it “will connect Aleppo with Latakia - the coastal province - which is one of the most heavily populated areas of Syria.”
“Joint Turkish-Russia patrolling will take place across [the M4] highway starting from March 15,” he added.
As for refugees, Sleboda said that there has been “no word yet” on how refugees or various migrants attempting to get to Europe will be aided, because “that is more of a Turkish-EU” issue outside the immediate scope of something that Putin and Erdogan would discuss themselves.
“There is no indication that any of the refugees now being sent by Turkey to Greece and the rest of the EU are coming now immediately out of the conflict in Idlib Province,” he pointed out. “In fact, there’s every indication otherwise. This will be people that are already in Turkey.”
A massive altercation broke out in the Turkish Parliament on Wednesday after after members of the opposition party called on Erdogan to remove troops from what they viewed as unnecessary conflict and proxy support of extremist groups in Syria.
Sleboda argued that this conflict was a sign that domestic tensions are running high when it comes to Ankara’s military choices in Syria.
“We know that ... the people consider this issue with refugees and the migrants in their country to be a major problem. They feel it’s taking tax money away; they’re taking jobs; the refugee camps are often sources of crime, since all of the sundry jihadi proxies that Turkey is supporting in Syria have their families there, so they often operate directly out of the camps,” he said.
“It’s a mess domestically for Erdogan, as well as a growing security and PR problem for the EU, and it’s no word how the signing of this ‘ceasefire’ will affect Erdogan’s decision,” he noted.
Sleboda stated that in his opinion, the Russia-Turkey agreement “has the same problem that every other ceasefire has had in Syria,” which is the fact that the majority of Idlib is controlled by Hayat Tahrir al-Sham - also known as al-Qaeda. “Even the US government recognizes that they are al-Qaeda rebranded - and a terrorist organization,” he said.
Despite Ankara “grudgingly” viewing the group as a terrorist organization, Sleboda argued that has not prevented it from supporting them.
“Daily convoys go back and forth across the Turkish-Syrian border bringing gasoline, food, ammunition, weapons to these groups - and al-Qaeda is principal among them,” he said, noting that other such groups include the Turkistan Islamic Party and Hurras al-Din.
“Is Erdogan suddenly going to take responsibility for the jihadists?” Sleboda asked. “Because if he’s not, what is forcing the people who actually control most of Idlib to hold to the ceasefire?”
He argued that despite the fact that these groups carry out attacks daily, it will be the Syrian Arab Army that will be called out for violating the ceasefire if they attempt to defend themselves.
“This ceasefire is as much of a political fiction as every other ceasefire has been between Turkey and Russia, between the US and Russia and whoever else during this conflict. And it will inevitably be broken,” Sleboda asserted.
He concluded by stating that Ankara may announce that the jihadist groups have been disbanded, and they will then become official Turkish proxies that operate with the same goals in the region, but be legitimized by Ankara and wear Turkish uniforms.