On Monday, Russian President Vladimir Putin and his Turkish counterpart Recep Tayyip Erdogan agreed in Sochi to create a demilitarized zone in Idlib — the last major stronghold of rebel and Islamic terrorist groups — by October 15.
Putin said that under the deal, all heavy weaponry operated by rebel groups must be pulled out of the demilitarized zone by October 10, and radicals — including members of Hayat Tahrir al-Sham, previously known as the Nusra Front — would also have to leave the zone.
University of Ottawa Professor Kamal Dib, author of four works on the history of Syria, said Erdogan’s agreement to the new plan should not obscure his years of fanning the flames of civil war in Syria.
"Let’s not forget that Turkey, with its long common borders with Syria, was the major player in the war in Syria, whether by facilitating the free entry and exit of fighters from 80 different countries" Dib said.
Dib recognized that Turkey maintained friendly relations with both Russia and Iran, but said Ankara remained "foe number one when it comes to the crisis that hit Syria in 2011 and destroyed much of its large cities, displaced 14 million Syrians, and killed over half a million Syrians."
Erdogan permitted Turkey’s provincial capitals near Syria to be used as headquarters of the various paramilitary organizations and he fostered Muslim-led movements to take over not only Syria, but major other countries, such as Egypt, Tunisia and Libya, Dib recalled.
"All this was in 2011 when Russia was still on its long road to recuperate from the fall of the Soviet Union. After 2014, Turkey realized its dream of a revived Muslim empire was wasted in the battlefields of Syria… Its seemingly milder line is a reflection of the failure of a military solution in Syria," Dib said.
Dib acknowledged that Erdogan’s willingness to work with Russia was "a good thing" to ease the situation and find an exit from the armed conflict in Syria.
"If the Idlib situation is resolved without a fight, that would help Syria and bring it closer to a settlement, as long as the entire province of Idlib is returned to Syrian sovereignty," Dib said.
However, Turkey remained a very important member of the NATO alliance and was still toeing the line of US policy toward Syria, he advised.
"US policy towards Syria has never changed that Syria ‘must behave.’ The United States would not allow any alternative to the Geneva venue that would give them through diplomacy much of what they did not get in the battlefield," Dib said.
Turkey retained strong ties and communications with Israel, Syria’s enemy, Dib also pointed out.
"Turkey is not only comparing notes with Israel towards Syria, but in fact has deep relationships with Israel, both economically and militarily, especially in the energy resources," he said.
A Turkish- Russian agreement might work in Idlib, but its design would allow a ceasefire of sorts open to future possibilities, Dib suggested.
"At best, the Turkish-Russian agreement could consolidate Russia’s work since 2014 to calm things down one step at a time, but that would be insufficient to end the conflict," he warned.
Putin had prevailed upon Erdogan to cooperate in the disarming of rebel and extremist forces of their heavy weapons in Idlib, analyst Jafar Jaafari of al-Mayadeen, a Beirut-based pan-Arab news channel, said.
Erdogan "agreed to disarm ‘most’ armed elements of heavy and medium-range weaponry. The next logical step is for him to ‘pretend’ to save those he supported and offer them slow exit or annihilation," Jaafari said.
Territories that remained under the control of the Syrian opposition now needed to be demilitarized, Erdogan acknowledged in Sochi.
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