Storm on Idlib halted

Syria with Russia and Iran give peace a chance, Turkey crammed in reinforcements and remains constructively engaged.

Russian diplomacy is – yet again – at its best: The final battle for peace and stability in Syria is overdue, but partnership with newcomer Turkey is being rated so high in Moscow, Tehran and Damascus, that it’s obviously worth further postponement of the next and probably last big battle. That is the basic outcome of Monday’s very important Russian-Turkish Sochi summit.

A quick look back: Though Turkey hat vented doubts against the wisdom of an all-out attack in Idlib province, even after the September 7 summit of the successful Middle East policy triangle of Russia, Turkey and Iran, had been viewed as go-ahead for the bombing campaign. And then Turkey moved: strong vehicle columns with further reinforcements to its positions in (west to east): Mount Ishtabraq, Maidan Ghazal, Morek and Surman; with Morek, right in the vicinity of a big Russian installation, getting the most of the material. Turkey brought tanks and trucks into Syrian territory, according to „„, a network within reach of the CIA. What is more: Turkey brought strong reinforcements to its main border posts with Syria, north and west of Idlib province.

The already started bombing and artillery campaign against Idlib then came to an immediate screeching halt. The Monday summit now cleared the way for further constructive triangle cooperation with Syria, all participants welcoming its result: a de-militarized zone of 15-20 km over the Syria-Idlib provincial border by October 15, including the largest part of Aleppo city. Turkish military and Russian military police are to jointly patrol this area, which has to be cleared of IS/Daesh. Russia is setting up humanitarian corridors in Abu Duhur and Morek. Defense ministers of both countries, Shoigu and Akar, presented a commune memorandum. Immediate applause came from parties as far apart as Tehran and Washington. Radical Islamist militias (like presumed 10’000 fighters of „Hayat Tahrir al-Sham“ – HTS) are to be fought back, more moderate like some inside the biggest grouping „National Liberation Front“ are to be integrated into a process leading to the set-up of a new constitution and fair and free elections.

That are the basics – but it’s worth taking a closer look at the joint press conference on Monday: Russia’s president Putin was the first to speak, very accurately, as is usual. Erdoğan used a much warmer language, several times referring to Putin as his „dear friend“, expressions not to be found in Putin’s speech. Another significant difference: Whereas Putin (and foreign affairs minister Lavrov, for that matter) looked like standing under tough tension, the Turkish president looked simply very tired but satisfied. Both sides started their statements by enumerating progress in the fields of economic exchange, which is in fact very impressive, with a 40% increase last year and 34% this year – further increase certainly to be expected. Good news also on bilateral tourism, with visa deregulation in the planning. Yet more important: Russia is to stick to its commitments to help develop use of nuclear energy in Turkey. The upcoming delivery of the top S400 air defense system to Turkey was not being mentioned. The presidents left the press conference without answering questions. Syria was mentioned to be informed immediately.

Reality is: This Sochi accord is no less than a historic breakthrough. It is a highly risky undertaking – but all sides have proved in the past, that they stand up to the challenge. It certainly was a masterpiece of Russian diplomacy – which certainly ranks top in global comparison – to have brought Turkey to reconsider its unhealthy devotion to orders from Washington. The coup attempt of 2016 in Turkey is to be regarded as an acknowledgement of political failure by Washington. The present compromise was certainly difficult for Moscow, as it had just accused the NFL member group Ahrar Al-Sham to have received material allowing production of poison gas – for the suspected false flag gas attack, which then in turn should trigger a western military attack on Syria. And this author had noted subsequently, that the Turkish Idlib province control post of Mount Ishtebraq was just a handful of kilometers away from an alleged filming location in the village of Jisr Ash-Shugur to produce fake evidence for a poison gas attack. Real attacks on Syria happened over the last weekend, Syrian air defense fire against Israel’s missiles most probably brought down a Russian Il-2oM, killing all 15 troopers on board. Consequently minister Shoigu blamed Israel for the loss on Tuesday morning. And „a French frigate in the Mediterranean“ sea was reported to have fired missiles, too, this Monday.

That the presidents didn’t answer questions, was certainly a wise decision: What is known about the agreement and the memorandum raises more questions than any of the participants could possibly answer. The Sochi result is an equally highly advantageous and courageous experiment, where all parties are forced to cooperate closely every day to remain successful. Turkey has accepted 3.4 million refugees from Syria on its soil, 800’000 more were expected to come as a result of the Idlib battle. That there are two further groups in the more radical range of the Turkish-backed NFL: „Failaq al-Sham“ and „Nuruddin-Zengi-Brigade“ – adds up to problems. But in fact, a sincere effort to  separate Islamists that cannot be talked to from others, that are ready for constructive dialogue, is a must in times, when Washington’s strategic Islamist terror management policies of the last 40 to 70 years are reaping grizzly success. Turkey has no happy future anyway, if Washington’s plans for a PKK-friendly state on its southern border are successful. To give peaceful solutions an honest chance before mass bombing, is certainly a wise choice. Russia is anyway the strongest power in the Middle East today – with good auspices to succeed, where predecessors failed thoroughly. Syria is clearly at the receiving end of the Sochi agreement – but called to regard this as a chance for overdue and honest reconciliation with those parts of the population, which are justifiably frustrated at different degrees with the Damascus government.

Sochi marks a hopeful opening to a better future in the Middle East, including growing friendship between all mentioned partners – and probably a calming influence on others who stand aside or act irresponsibly until now, markedly Israel and the EU. And Washington? – is out for now.


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