The March 5 Russian-Turkish agreement on Syria’s Greater Idlib continuous to hold on, despite a series of violations by radical militants in the region and unfulfilled promises by Ankara. Syria and Turkey, however, appear to be preparing for a new military confrontation in the northwestern region.
In the ceasefire’s first few weeks, the Turkish military raised the number of its “observation posts” in Greater Idlib to 44. Ankara also deployed large reinforcements in the Syrian region, with some sources reporting the deployment of around 1,400 military vehicles there.
Turkish National Defense Ministry, Hulusi Akar, stressed on March 20 that Ankara will go on with its deployment plans in Greater Idlib.
“The Turkish Armed Forces is continuing planned deployment and distribution of troops in the Idlib de-escalation zone of northwestern Syria, in line with the cease-fire of March 6. Reports by some media organizations about withdrawals of our troops from the region do not reflect the truth,” the Anadolu Agency quoted Akar as saying.
While Turkey is taking advantage of the recent agreement with Russia to deploy more and more troops in Greater Idlib, it is yet to fulfill any of its commitments under the agreement.
The M4 highway, which links Syria’s industrial hub, Aleppo city, with the port city of Lattakia, is still blocked by militants. Reopening the strategic highway is the keystone of the recent Russian-Turkish agreement.
On the other side, the Damascus government is fulfilling its commitments, by halting its aerial and land operations in Greater Idlib. The Syrian Arab Army (SAA), however, is preparing for a worst case scenario. Fresh reinforcements are reportedly being sent to the region, especially to the army’s positions south of the M4.
In a phone call on March 20, Russian President Vladimir Putin and Syria’s Bashar al-Assad discussed the agreement on Greater Idlib.
“During the call, President al-Assad and Putin touched upon the implementation of the Russian-Turkish agreements concluded on March 5 to achieve stability in Idlib region and the continued violation of these agreements by terrorist organizations in addition to the political process,” a statement released by the Syrian Arab News Agency (SANA) reads.
If no progress is made in implementing the Russian-Turkish agreement on Greater Idlib, a military confrontation could break out in the region within a few weeks.
Damascus and is allies will likely move to reopen the M4 highway by force. This will not likely happen without a direct confrontation between the SAA and the Turkish military, similar to what we saw last month.