Idlib Province in Syria has suffered an uptick of clashes between the Syrian Arab Army and militants supported by Turkey. Ankara maintains that Damascus breached a ceasefire agreement and threatened to launch a military offensive in retaliation.
Russian and Syrian forces continue to come under attack from Idlib Province, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said on Wednesday. The minister added that Russia lends its support to the Syrian Arab Army, which simply responds to provocations.
“The demilitarised zone at whole Idlib zone perimeter has not been created yet. In addition, we see the continuation of shellfire from the de-escalation zone on Syrian Army positions, civilian assets as well as attempts to attack Russia’s Hmeymim base”, Lavrov said.
He added that terrorists are not guaranteed safety in the Idlib zone.
“Nobody gave a promise to terrorists that they would be safe in the Idlib zone, just read the agreements between the Russian and Turkish presidents and everything will fall into place”, Lavrov said.
The diplomat underlined that Russia is willing to continue working with Ankara on Idlib, including at the highest level. At the same time, Lavrov noted that there has been no information regarding any upcoming meetings between Putin and Erdogan.
Meanwhile, the Kremlin said on Wednesday that Russia is dissatisfied with the implementation of the Sochi agreement with Turkey on creating a demilitarised zone in Idlib.
According to Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov, Russia will continue cooperating with Turkey to prevent a further escalation of tensions in Idlib.
“We used to be satisfied with the agreements reached in Sochi more than a year ago and this satisfaction was mutual. However, we are completely dissatisfied now that militants and terrorists have begun advancing from Idlib and attacking Syrian forces and Russian military installations”, Peskov stated.
Turkey dissatisfied with Ankara-Moscow talks
Turkish President Erdogan said on Wednesday that Russia-Turkey talks on Syria’s Idlib have not been conducive to bringing about the desired result and bilateral discussions are still far from meeting Ankara’s demands.
Speaking at a parliamentary meeting with his ruling AKP party, Erdogan warned that an offensive in Idlib could begin “at any moment”.
“Turkey has made all necessary preparations to kick off an operation in Idlib. As in the case with any other operation, we say: ‘we could come at night at any moment’. In other words, the Idlib offensive could begin at any time”, TRThaber quoted the president as saying.
The Turkish president emphasised that Ankara is seeking to turn the embattled province into a secure zone even while discussions with Russia continue. Erdogan added that he had discussed potential action in Syria with President Trump over the phone.
Russia-Turkey talks on Idlib
The Turkish president previously called on his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin to exercise pressure on Syrian president Bashar al-Assad in a bid to make the Syrian Army halt its offensive in Idlib and retreat from Turkey’s observation posts by the end of February. If these demands are not met, Turkey threatened to launch retaliatory military action.
In 2017, Russia, Turkey, and Iran created four de-escalation zones in Syria during their talks in the Kazakh capital Astana (now named Nur-Sultan). Three out of four zones are controlled by the Syrian government. However, Damascus does not exercise control over the fourth zone, located in Idlib Province and a portion of Latakia, Hama, and Aleppo provinces. A major part of the area is controlled by al-Nusra jihadists.
In September 2018, Moscow and Ankara agreed in Sochi to establish a demilitarised zone in Idlib where more than a dozen forces are stationed.