The heads of state of both of these Great Powers met on Monday in Sochi and hashed out an agreement whereby the Turkish military and Russian military police would be responsible for a 15-kilometer "de-escalation zone" along the line of contact between the so-called "armed opposition" and the Syrian Arab Army (SAA), respectively. Ankara would in turn be in charge of separating the "moderate opposition" from terrorists within the province that has already been under its official purview since the original "de-escalation zone" agreement reached in May 2017 during an earlier round of the Astana process.
As it stands, this will prospectively result in an informal "buffer zone" between the last remaining Islamist militants in the country and the SAA, essentially freezing the kinetic aspect of this conflict in place for the time being while possibly adding a renewed impetus to the previously stalled constitutional reform process mandated by UNSC 2254. Another consequence of this compromise is that Damascus can now turn its strategic, but not necessarily military, sights on the Kurdish-controlled northeastern part of the country that's also occupied by US forces and France. This suggests that backchannel diplomacy between the two parties might accelerate as events in the country move closer towards a so-called "political solution" whereby all sides engage in compromises from their maximalist positions in order to bring an end to the war.
While that would be the most pragmatic long-term outcome of the Russian-Turkish deal over Idlib, there's also the chance that things won't turn out as planned and that the terrorist menace in the province will prove more difficult to eradicate than expected. On top of that, it might be difficult for both Great Powers to exert positive influence on their on-the-ground partners of the SAA and the "moderate rebels" respectively to avoid any provocations along or across the so-called "buffer zone". This scenario would therefore make the Idlib deal more of a temporary fix than a sustainable solution, and could also make it more difficult for Damascus to reach a deal with the Kurds if the latter realizes that the SAA still has its hands full dealing with the situation in the northwest.
Steven Sahiounie, Syrian-American journalist, and Serap Balaman, Turkish political commentator, joined our discussion.
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