After a six-hour summit, the Turkish and Russian presidents announced the implementation of a ceasefire in Idlib. Since the ceasefire came into effect, the embattled province has been in a state of calm, offering a respite to the nearly a million Syrians displaced in the region.
On Thursday, the Turkish President, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, travelled to Moscow where he held a summit with the Russian President, Vladimir Putin. The summit came after steadily-increasing violence in Idlib that left nearly a million Syrians displaced while resulting in the deaths of dozens of Turkish soldiers, as well as hundreds of Syrian civilians, as well as fighters on both sides of the conflict. The summit, which was seen as a last resort following the failure of numerous lower-level Russian-Turkish meetings, culminated in the announcement of a ceasefire between the two sides.
The ceasefire, which entered into force on the midnight connecting Thursday to Friday, will see the establishment of a “security corridor that is 6 kilometres wide and six kilometres deep along the M4 Highway and south of it, with joint Turkish-Russian patrols to take place along the highway. Further details will reportedly be discussed, but there were numerous reports that the Syrian Opposition factions would withdraw from the area south of the M4 Highway that runs horizontally along central Idlib, with the segments between Saraqib and Jisr al-Shugour remaining under Opposition control.
In the press conference following the six-hour summit, both sides stressed that there is no military but political solution in Syria, adding that peace talks under the supervision of the United Nations should take place. Both leaders also emphasised that civilians in the region must be protected and aid should be delivered. Erdoğan, in particular, noted that the permanence of the ceasefire should be enforced and the humanitarian crisis in the region alleviated.
On the ground in Idlib, the situation appears to be calm. Over the course of the summit, Hayy’at Tahrir al-Sham (HTS) and the Turkish-backed Syrian National Army (SNA) attempted to launch another offensive against the Syrian Arab Army (SAA) in Saraqib but this attack was repelled. The SAA, meanwhile, shelled much of the Idlib countryside south of the M4 in the lead-up to the ceasefire. Although some violations were reported immediately after the ceasefire came into effect, the region has been calm since.
Time will tell if this state of calm lasts. Observers noted that the ceasefire is significantly in favour of Damascus, disincentivising Opposition factions from abiding it. Similarly, the ceasefire may allow the SAA to recoup its strength and launch new attacks, justifying it on grounds of HTS presence in the region. For now, however, the displaced residents of Idlib have gained a respite while the risk of a Turkish-Russian conflict that could engulf the whole of Syria has been averted.