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Putin Did, Indeed, Put the Squeeze on Erdogan in Moscow Meeting

March 7, 2020 (EIRNS)—The ceasefire agreement reached March 5 between Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Russian President Vladimir Putin in Idlib, Syria is a big step back for Erdogan’s geopolitical designs for Syria. Except for the ceasefire as such Turkey made no gains, but only losses. The Russia-Syrian military operations over the last month were totally due to the fact that Turkey did not implement the main points of the Sochi agreement that Putin and Erdogan signed on Sept. 17, 2018.

In their March 5 Moscow meeting, first, Putin made it clear that the struggle against terror groups on the UN list of terror groups, most especially Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS), which Turkey has fully protected until now, will continue. As in the 2018 Sochi agreements, Turkey must separate the HTS from the legitimate opposition in Syria. The most important part of the agreement is the control of Highways M5 and M4, one of the objectives of the anti-terror offensive and which in the 2018 Sochi agreement Turkey was supposed to open, but did not. Although M5 was not directly mentioned in the agreement, Turkey has nonetheless de facto recognized Syrian control of Highway M5, a vital link between Aleppo and Damascus, which will now be open for Syrian civilian traffic.

M4, which runs from Latakia to Aleppo through Idlib, and which intersects M5 west of Saraqib (now under Russian control), will be jointly patrolled by Russian and Turkish troops for its full length, allowing for civilian traffic between Latakia and Aleppo. M4 will run through the buffer zone which lies 6 km on either side of the highway.

Syria will remain in control of the part of the Idlib enclave it liberated during the offensive, which reduced it by half. Turkish observation posts will remain in the demilitarized area of Idlib, only “for now.” Many of these observation posts will now be surrounded by Syrian troops.

The deal does not mention the need for a safe or buffer zone along the Turkish-Syrian border, although it had been one of the top Turkish demands.

Also of importance, Putin said the agreement “will help establish dialogue between all sides to the contention” which is seen as Russia’s intention to insist that Turkey establish dialogue with the Syrian government.

If anything, the agreement in effect gives Turkey time to decide how it is going to end its involvement in this 9-year conflict.

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