Turkey and Russia to shape future of Idlib - analysis

The fate of Syria’s rebel-held Idlib, which the United States has warned Syrian President Bashar al-Assad over, hangs not with Washington, but with neighboring Turkey and Russia, the Atlantic wrote.

While Turkey has made it clear that it does not wish to see the Assad regime take control of Idlib, Russia insists that it and Damascus need rid the region of what they call terrorist groups. 

‘’A war that seems to be ending could still witness its most deadly assault yet,’’ the Atlantic said, highlighting Idlib is the last real bastion of Syria’s opposition.

The province, “the largest al-Qaeda safe haven since 9/11,” according to Brett McGurk, the U.S. envoy to the coalition against the Islamic State, holds almost 3 million people, including 1.3 million displaced from elsewhere in the country. Turkey fears that as much 800,000 more refugees will arrive at its borders following a full-blown attack on the province. 

Pointing out that Turkey began sending in observer forces late last year to reinforce a “de-escalation” cease-fire covering the province, the article stressed that Turkey’s positions around Idlib provide useful as a defensive line against a full-scale attack.

Staunch Damascus ally Russia’s posture will prove to be critical; however, it cannot do that alone, the Atlantic article said:

‘’It needs European donors, whom it has been trying to enlist in a new push for the organized return of Syrian refugees, which Russia is trying to leverage into diplomatic normalization and reconstruction funds for Damascus. And Russia needs Turkey, which has made itself an integral part of Moscow’s political efforts to manage the conflict and retool Syria’s political process to better suit Russian ends. By supporting a full-scale Idlib offensive, Russia risks complicating all of that.’’

The people of Idlib cannot survive under Assad’s reconstituted rule and a Syrian military victory in Idlib will ‘’necessarily mean death on a huge scale, and mass displacement toward either toward Turkey or to Turkish-held areas whose humanitarian capacities, already strained, will be totally overwhelmed,’’ the Atlantic noted.

While Idlib’s jihadists and the persistent violations of the de-escalation ceasefire are genuine problems that require a solution, it said, this solution can still be one agreed upon between Turkey, Russia, and Iran, in a way that spares human life.