The new Russia Turkey agreement on de-escalation in Idlib is a rather abrupt document which is remarkable not only in saying what has been agreed, but in omitting mention of important facts on the ground.
The five hours and 45 minutes of talks between Russia and Turkey produced a seemingly modest set of deliverables. However, it’s clear that none of the three points the presidents signed onto in what is officially called the “Additional Protocol to the Memorandum on Stabilization of the Situation in the Idlib De-Escalation Area” came easy — especially, perhaps, for the Turkish side. Eventually, Putin and Erdogan agreed to “cease all military actions along the line of contact” starting at 12:01 a.m. March 6; establish a security corridor 6 kilometers (nearly 4 miles) deep to the north and 6 kilometers deep to the south from highway M4; and, starting March 15, to launch joint Turkish-Russian patrols along highway M4 from the settlement of Trumba (2 kilometers, or roughly a mile, to the west of Saraqeb) to the settlement of Ain al-Havr.
Perhaps one of the most remarkable things that the protocol didn’t mention was the M5 highway. This may suggest that Turkey had to recognize its current status. If so, this itself may be a key step toward Syrian President Bashar al-Assad taking control over the rest of the country and securing passage to the north. The no-fly zone is also off the table, which is a win for Damascus. The issue of Turkish observation posts south of the M4 is also an interesting matter to watch and is likely to be one of the hardest for the two militaries to settle. The issue of refugees is a big uncertainty at this stage but Putin has now seems to have the cards to package it in his conversations with the Europeans as his personal contribution to halt the flow of new migrants to Europe.
Also when you look at the map of what is left of Idlib under the terrorists you can see that a corridor of 6 km north and south of the M4 will create a rebel held pocket including parts of northern Hama and Latakia provinces, how is that going to be managed?
The agreement does allow Turkey to continue to occupy parts of Idlib of course and also relies heavily on the goodwill of Erdogan in adhering to the agreement which is really an annexe to the 2018 agreement which should have guaranteed the opening of the M5 and M4, so whether this agreement will hold, remains to be seen. Here is the text of the 2018 agreement:
Memorandum on Stabilization of the Situation in the Idlib De-escalation Area
The Republic of Turkey and the Russian Federation, as guarantors of the observance of the ceasefire regime in the Syrian Arab Republic, -guided by memorandum on creation of de-escalation areas in the Syrian Arab Republic as of May 4, 2017 and arrangements achieved in the Astana Process -in order to stabilize the situation in the Idlib de-escalation area as soon as possible,
Have agreed on the following:
1. The Idlip de-escalation area will be preserved and Turkish observation posts will be fortified and continue to function.
2. The Russian Federation will take all necessary measures to ensure that military operations and attacks on Idlib will be avoided and the existing status quo will be maintained.
3. A demilitarized zone, 15-20 kms deep in the de-escalation area will be established.
4. The delineation of exact lines of the demilitarised zone will be determined through further consultations.
5. All radical terrorist groups will be removed from the demilitarised zone by October 15.
6. All tanks, MLRS, artillery and mortars belonging to conflicting parties will be withdrawn from the demilitarised zone by October 10, 2018.
7. Turkish Armed Forces and the military police of the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation will conduct coordinated patrols and monitoring with UAVs along the boundaries of the demilitarised zone.
With a view to ensuring free movement of local residents and goods and restoring trade and economic relations:
8. Transit traffic on the routes M4 (Aleppo-Latakia) and M5 (Aleppo-Hama) will be restored by the end of 2018.
9. Effective measures will be taken for ensuring sustainable ceasefire regime within the Idlib de-escalation area. In this regard, the functions of the Joint Iranian-Russian-Turkish Coordination Center will be enhanced.
10. The two sides reiterated their determination to combat terrorism in Syria in all forms and manifestations.
Done in Sochi on September, 17, 2018 in two copies, both in English and Russian having equal legal force.
For the Republic of Turkey
For the Russian Federation
The text of the current agreement is available here