About Idlib and the “Russian-Turkish Dispute”
Today, the situation in Idlib and military operations there, as well as the humanitarian situation, are at the forefront; something that is normal and expected.
Nevertheless, the intensity of Idlib’s presence – in the political and media sense, and in Western media in particular, constituted an exceptional leap compared to past years in which news on Syria was not completely absent, but its presence had significantly diminished over time.
Typically, media relies on the humanitarian issue to push any news to the number one spot. However, this particular issue does not offer a real explanation; there is always – as bitter experiences around the world and in particular in Syria have proven – a specific political objective, and the humanitarian factor is merely a prelude to get into and work on achieving said objective.
Russia vs Turkey
These days, there is a discussion focused on “a major Russian-Turkish dispute”, one that is portrayed as extremely enormous and irreversible. Moreover, some have gone as far as considering it a declaration of the end of the Astana and Sochi tracks, and the crumbling of the Russian-Turkish-Iranian alliance.
The amusing part of the issue is the magnitude of Western enthusiasm for these ideas, and their frantic encouragement therefor, which was heard from Western officials at different levels, including of course the US special envoy to Syria and the US envoy to the international (US) coalition forces. We can start by recalling from recent memory the latter’s statement on 30 January, in which he pointed with equivocation the possibility of Washington going in the direction of lifting the “terrorism” label off al-Nusra Front. To recall, he said: “We [the United States] recognize that there are terrorists in Idlib. There’s also a very large group, the al-Nusra or Hayat Tahrir al-Sham group, HTS, that is an al-Qaida offshoot. It is considered a terrorist organization, but it is primarily focused on fighting the Assad regime. It itself claims – we haven’t accepted that claim yet, but they do claim to be patriotic opposition fighters, not terrorists. We have not seen them generate, for example, international threats for some time.”
The very next day, with regards to Jeffrey’s enthusiasm for a Turkish-Russian dispute, he made a statement at a press conference from Washington, saying: “We told Erdogan that Russian President Vladimir Putin cannot be trusted, especially regarding Syria, and today we see the results.” In the same press conference, and in a blink of an eye, US frustration with Turkey disappeared, and it became possible to tolerate anything and everything, the important thing is hostility to Russia. He added in said press conference: “When it comes to the situation in Syria, Erdogan has experience, and he is our partner, our NATO ally, and we stand by him.”
Jeffrey was not satisfied with the statement, he got on the first plane to Istanbul and from there to Ankara, in a visit pushed one day earlier, where it was scheduled for last Wednesday, but took place on Tuesday instead. He was hoping to openly fuel the alleged fire between Russia and Turkey, perchance it may burn higher and intensify, in a repeated pitiful scene of the nature of US policies in the region, especially in Syria. These have become the only margins within which the US can or imagines to be able to play, which are exactly the margins that fall outside the intersections among the Astana trio (Russia-Turkey-Iran).
In this context, we can also go back to the end of 2018, when the Western powers obstructed the formation of the Constitutional Committee and tried to blame the Astana trio going as far as publicly declaring that “the Astana path must end” and “the Astana path is dead.” From the heart of its supposed death, the path emerged stronger than before, declaring agreement to the list of members of the constitutional committee that de Mistura received at the time, who turned around and rejected it with a signal from the West, which led to delaying the formation of the Committee for an entire year.
Perhaps the West has fallen into the trap of exaggerating the interpretation of the high-toned statements exchanged by the Russian and Turkish sides about what is going on in Idlib. The reciprocal accusations between the two sides may even be – and this is the opinion of some - a trap set up for the West to become distracted from what is actually taking place on the ground of completion of the implementation of the Sochi Agreement.
Although we are not leaning towards the last idea, nor do we absolutely reject it, what is clear regarding the issue is what Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said on 15 February 15 the 56th Munich Security Conference in response to a question related to the topic: “We have very good relations with Turkey, that does not mean we have to agree on everything. In general, I believe that there can be no complete agreement on any issue within the relations between any two countries; the existence of full agreement is the same as agreements that arise from pressure.” Less diplomatically, we can translate the aforementioned statement to that having full agreement on any issue between two countries is indicative of one of them submitting to the other, and this is not the case between Russia and Turkey.
“Astana remains the most effective tool to assist the United Nations in moving towards achieving Security Council resolution 2254,” Lavrov added at the same conference.
Sochi, to a Full Implementation
Returning to the most important issue related to what is happening on the ground in Idlib, and despite mutterings here and there, the overall direction of things is very clear: al-Nusra Front will be completely liquidated by disbanding it and deporting its foreign fighters or liquidating them, a task that is actually being implemented these days. Indications and news coming from people from Idlib City and its surrounding areas inform us of that, and also indicate that there is movement of al-Nusra taking place towards the Turkish border west of Idlib and at a depth of 15 km from the border, which means they will be permanently confined. Al-Nusra Front is not only the one that will be liquidated, but also groups similar to it, especially those made up entirely or have high proportions of foreigners, and these groups are now positioned west of Idlib City.
In sum, the Sochi Agreement roadmap is being fully implemented, albeit through numerous complications and a sensation of statements and diplomatic activity, some constructive and some destructive.
A real guarantee for Syrians in Idlib and their security necessarily passes through ending al-Nusra Front and its counterparts, and that security cannot be held hostage in the hands of al-Nusra nor in the hands of its chief supporter, the US, which is ready to publicly defend al-Nusra, like Jeffrey did.
The sustainability of the previous situation in Idlib was a stated goal of Western powers under the cover of “the ceasefire”; a goal that we can read between the lines of the consecutive reports on Syria by US-based RAND corporation, and we can hear it in the statements of Western officials over the years. The issue is that obstructing the solution from a US point of view, and obstructing the due changes that the US has announced it does not want to take place, that obstruction has two main basis remaining: al-Nusra and US presence in the northeast; losing either means necessarily accelerating the loss of the other, and this exactly what we are witnessing now and the results of which we will see soon.