Published on South Front, Feb 19, 2020
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov defended the Syrian Arab Army’s operation in Idlib, and fight against Turkish and Turkish-backed troops as a response to gross violations in the Idlib agreements.
“These actions of the Syrian armed forces are a response to the grossest violations of the Idlib agreements,” Lavrov said. “At the same time, contrary to some estimates, I emphasize that the Syrian troops are pushing the militants and terrorists not to foreign territories, but to their own, thereby restoring control of the legitimate government of the Syrian Arab Republic over their lands,” said the Russian Foreign Minister.
Earlier, Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said that Turkey has not fulfilled a number of key obligations on Idlib. The opposite opinion, in turn, was made by the vice president of Turkey Fuat Oktay, saying that it was Russia, who wasn’t fulfilling its obligations.
The Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov, commenting on the situation, noted that Moscow will continue to use contacts with Ankara to stop the escalation of tension in Idlib.
“We were satisfied with the agreements that were reached more than a year ago in Sochi, and this was mutual satisfaction, and we absolutely ceased to be satisfied after the offensive actions of militants and terrorist groups against the Syrian Armed Forces and the Russian military began from the territory of Idlib objects. That’s where our satisfaction ended,” said the presidential spokesman.
Russia: "Turkey failed to separate the opposition from the extremist jihadist faction in Idlib, and failed to secure and reopen M5 as agreed between president Putin and Erdogan"
"We will stay in contact with Turkey to avoid any escalation"
— The'Nimr'Tiger (@Souria4Syrians) February 19, 2020
On February 17th, US President Donald Trump said that Erdogan was trying to ensure that a humanitarian catastrophe doesn’t take place in Idlib.
“He’s fighting on Idlib,” Trump told reporters. “He doesn’t want people to be killed by the thousands, and hundreds of thousands.”
“You have a lot of warring going on right now, a lot of warring going on, but I am dealing with President Erdogan,” Trump said.
Mark Lowcock, the UN’s humanitarian affairs chief, said that “indiscriminate” violence in the region reached “a horrifying new level” since the regime offensive began in December and he demanded the Security Council to take action to avoid catastrophe of historical proportions.
“The biggest humanitarian horror story of the 21st Century will only be avoided if Security Council members, and those with influence, overcome individual interests and put a collective stake in humanity first. The only option is a ceasefire,” he said.
Thus, the Washington-based establishment is at least supportive of Turkey in rhetoric, but it is also unlikely that any military support would come in case Ankara really undertakes an offensive.
On February 18th, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said that a cross-border operation in Idlib, Syria was just “a matter of time.”
“As with all [previous] operations, we say ‘we could suddenly come one night.’ In other words, an Idlib operation is a matter of time,” Recep Tayyip Erdogan told his party’s parliamentary group.
Erdogan, furthermore, said that meetings between a Turkish delegation and a Russian one in Moscow have failed to produce any results regarding the Idlib situation.
“Although the meetings will continue, it is a reality that we were very far from what we want,” he said.
He added: “Turkey has made all preparations to carry out its own operation plans in Idlib.”
He said that Turkey was prepared to transform Idlib into a safe region for both Turkey, the Syrian population at any cost. Erdogan and his government still entirely refuse to acknowledge the presence of any militants in the province.
Turkey is not satisfied with the outcome of negotiations with Russia on a settlement in Syrian Idlib, spokesman for the Turkish president Ibrahim Kalin said.
“We did not accept the map (borders of the de-escalation zone) that Russia proposed. We do not have goals such as oil or the seizure of territory. We only want to protect civilians and achieve stability in the region. Waves of refugees are gradually putting pressure on Turkey,” Kalin said.
He emphasized that Ankara does not want deterioration of relations with Russia, but attacks from the Syrian forces need to be prevented.
According to Kalin, Turkey will continue to send military and armored vehicles to Idlib “to protect the inhabitants of the region.”
The spokesman for the Turkish president also said that Moscow and Ankara agreed to continue negotiations on a settlement in Idlib.
“We insist on the implementation of the Sochi memorandum on the Idlib de-escalation zone and the withdrawal of the regime’s forces (the Syrian army) beyond its borders. We are talking about the borders that were set 2.5 years ago. Our observation posts were located in accordance with them, and we do not we’re going to change this,” Kalinsaid.
The Turkish Defense Hulusi Akar on February 19th said that Turkey would not abandon its observation posts:
“We will by no means leave the observation posts and will respond many times more to any attacks. We expect that the parties will adhere to the Sochi memorandum. We will continue communication with Russia. The fifth paragraph of the Astana Agreements states that guarantor countries have the right to take additional measures to ceasefire. We are doing it. And as we stated earlier, we warned the opposition in Idlib, and in the same place, against those who violate the ceasefire, we can use force. We respect the integrity of Syria. And we stand for a stable, united state.”
Meanwhile, the Syrian Arab Army is making steady progress, having captured the M5 highway, connecting Aleppo to Hama, Homs and Damascus.
The Turkish-backed opposition groups are trying to regroup and regain control over their areas, however it seems like they will be unable to counteract the SAA.