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Russia, Turkey Agree on Idlib Ceasefire

The deal details a security corridor and joint patrols will be established in the coming days

The ceasefire agreement on Syria’s largest remaining rebel stronghold between Russia and Turkey is unlikely to hold, analysts told The Media Line, after the country’s leaders met in Moscow following weeks of intensified fighting in the region.

An offensive by Russian-backed Syrian President Bashar al-Assad at the start of December to take over Idlib province pushed hundreds of thousands of people towards the border with Turkey, which fears another wave of migrants.

Ankara, allied with opposition forces, sent military reinforcements to Idlib province and stated it launched an operation in the area after at least 34 Turkish soldiers dead in one attack near the end of February.

That led to fears there could be a direct confrontation between Russia and Turkey, a worst-case scenario.

The agreement, set to start one minute past midnight on Friday, would “cease all military actions along the line of contact in the Idlib de-escalation area,” according to a Turkish government handout of the deal.

The agreement stipulated there would be a security corridor, with details to be set up within seven days, and joint Turkish-Russian patrols along a key highway in Idlib starting on March 15.

Near the top of the document detailing the agreement also stated that Turkey and Russia were committed to the sovereignty of Syria and determined to fight terrorism, both of which were key talking points for Moscow.

Kristian Brakel, an Istanbul-based analyst with the Heinrich Böll Foundation, told The Media Line, said if there were conditions tied to a ceasefire then a similar scenario of escalated fighting could return.

“We will run into a very similar impasse like the one we’ve seen in recent weeks,” he told The Media Line.

Nicholas Danforth, a senior visiting fellow at the German Marshall Fund said there is not much motivation for Russia to abide by the deal.

“If every broken agreement enables Moscow and Damascus to secure a better one, they have little incentive to make this agreement work,” he wrote in an email to The Media Line.

The crisis in Idlib led Turkey to open its borders to the European Union, stating Ankara was overwhelmed and the EU needed to take on some of the migrants.

Turkey hosts 3.7 million Syrians, more than any other country in the world outside of Syria. Erdoğan had been threatening for months to “open the gates” of migration if the EU did not support his plans for a “safe zone in Syria.”

The EU accused Erdoğan of using migrants as pawns while Turkey claimed migrants were being mistreated by those in the EU.

Turkey accused Greece, a regional rival, of killing three migrants who tried to cross into the country and said it would seek to have Athens tried at the European Court of Human Rights for mistreatment of migrants.

Tension between Turkish citizens and Syrian refugees has increased over the years, with Syrian shops being attacked and officials establishing regulations limiting the use of Arabic on store signs.

The escalation in Syria pushed Turkey to seek help from the EU and the US, which have had difficult relations with Ankara. As the fighting intensified and the death toll of Turkish soldiers increased, Turkey said it would like to receive US missiles, which Ankara had rejected last year in search of Russian weapons.

Analysts say Ankara is trying to make Turkey’s foreign policy independent of its western allies.

Danforth believed that Turkey’s strong relations with Russia would likely continue.

“Ankara’s systematic efforts to alienate Washington over the past few years, as well as Washington’s own incoherence, make it unlikely the US will be able to offer Turkey the level of support it needs to counter Russia in Idlib. As a result, cutting another deal with Moscow will continue to seem like a more attractive strategy for Ankara than a dramatic pivot back to the West. At best, recent developments might prompt Ankara to temper some of the more provocative elements of its approach toward the US and EU.”