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Truce an anathema

Intrinsically, the deal, which theoretically came into effect at midnight, provides for a safety corridor”, preserves the gains of Bashar al-Assad, and retains the Turkish foothold.

SNS | New Delhi |

Embattled Idlib ought to be on course towards normality. This is the very least that the international community can expect after Thursday’s agreement at the Kremlin between the Russian President, Vladimir Putin, and his Turkish counterpart, Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

Intrinsically, the deal, which theoretically came into effect at midnight, provides for a safety corridor”, preserves the gains of Bashar al-Assad, and retains the Turkish foothold. Syria being Syria, it may yet turn out to be a fragile peace like the purported US-Taliban truce in Afghanistan though Putin and Erdogan have expressed the hope that it will defuse tension in the region.

The three-point agreement has stipulated the creation of a seven-mile “safety corridor” ~ safety is an anathema in Syria ~ along the country’s crucial M4 highway, which Russian and Turkish forces would begin patrolling at the end of next week. The deal will effectively preserve some of the territorial gains made by Russian-backed Syrian forces during a three-month offensive in Idlib, the country’s last remaining rebel stronghold, while preserving a Turkish foothold in the region.

Considering that festering Syria has in recent weeks boiled down to a conflict zone between Russia and Turkey, Thursday’s ceasefire should bring about a measure of peace. Misgivings do arise and still more in the context of Putin’s statement that talks, though constructive, were “tense and difficult”. Which would seem to be a gross understatement on the tenth anniversary of the Arab Spring. While several other countries in the region bear witness to a change of guard, President Assad soldiers on. The intervention of Russia and Turkey has served to make the waters murkier.

Putin and Erdogan have also called for further negotiations to limit the humanitarian crisis in the region and facilitate the return of refugees to their homes. The renewed struggle for Idlib province has exacerbated the region’s refugee crisis. According to the UN, the Syrian offensive has had “catastrophic” humanitarian consequences, driving an estimated 1 million refugees from their homes since it began in December.

Three million more are said to be trapped in Idlib. Erdogan has been less optimistic than Putin. Hence the misgivings that the ceasefire is likely to be fragile not the least because Turkey’s military has reserved the right to respond if it is attacked by Syrian government forces. The President of Turkey visited the Kremlin on Thursday to broker a ceasefire with President Putin in an effort to stem mounting military losses and prevent another large influx of refugees fleeing Idlib province.

The two countries are on rival sides of Syria’s war, with Russia supporting the Syrian government of Assad and Turkey backing anti-government fighters. Russia and Syria have accused Turkey of backing “terrorists”. From the 19th to the 21st centuries, there has been a lethal dimension to the Eastern Question.