Our Analytics 31 august — 13:12

Erdogan takes risks ... and wins (Our comment)

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BY IKRAM NUR

In order to stabilise the situation, the Syrian government army unilaterally stops fighting in the Idlib de-escalation zone on Saturday, August 31.

The Russian Centre for the Reconciliation of the warring parties was the first to inform of this decision, and Damascus 'digested' the news for a couple of hours that its 'army,' it turns out, intends to end the successful offensive.

The confusion was quite obvious, since nothing, as they say, 'foreshadowed' the truce. Moreover, new forces were preparing to be sent to the offensive area - the most combat-ready units of the Republican Guard, Lebanese Hezbollah units and additional units of the 4th tank division, which reports directly to the brother of the Syrian president, Maher Assad.

But by the evening of August 30, the situation around Idlib was no longer determined by the plans of Damascus and the Iranians, but by completely different factors.

After the meeting of Recep Tayyip Erdogan with Vladimir Putin in Moscow, a number of independent observers came to the conclusion that the Russian side will necessarily, as has happened more than once, make concessions to Ankara. But, trying to arrange this with the greatest benefit for itself, at least expanding the territory of its presence to the maximum in the Greater Idlib zone. Indeed, nothing contributes so much to negotiations on zones of influence as one's garrisons, which already occupy key positions.

Something like this happened in the last couple of days - on Friday morning, pro-government forces, with air support from Russian aviation, continued to establish control over the dominant heights in the Idlib region and occupied several small villages southeast of the city. It is possible that Moscow hoped to delay the fulfilment of Turkish requirements for a few more days, improving the configuration of the front, but then it faced opposition from three directions at once. And so unexpected and serious that it was urgently forced to abandon its plans.

In the literal sense of this expression, the population of Greater Idlib 'voted with their feet' both against their 'liberation from militants' and against the 'restoration of Syria's territorial integrity.' As early as August 29, the apparatus of Mark Lowcock, the UN coordinator for emergency assistance to Syria, released evidence that 'dozens of settlements in the northern part of the Hama province and the southern part of Idlib province' were depopulated before the approach of their liberators - 'government forces' and following them Syrian units 'for the protection of the rear.'

A mass exodus from the Greater Idlib of the civilian population began. Having loaded all the available means of transport with old mattresses, simple utensils and old people with babies, tens of thousands of Syrians moved to the Turkish border.

And having arrived there, they began to demand protection from Ankara against the advancing 'government forces' or passage to Turkey. At the Bab al-Hawa checkpoint, Turkish border guards were forced to shoot into the air and use tear gas to stop the distraught crowd trying to break through the border. At Atma border checkpoint in Idlib province, refugees with fists attacked the Turkish military, accusing them of not being able to stop the advance of forces loyal to Damascus. In fact, by the night of August 29, a critical situation with refugees had developed on the Turkish border.

And Erdogan decided on a rather risky step. Stating that 'it would be a lie if we said that the events in Idlib are at the level we want,' he ordered the troops located on the border with Syria to be ready to enter Syrian territory in the Greater Idlib. And the twelve observation posts of the Turkish Army — two of which by that time had already been attacked by 'anonymous' from the air and fired by 'unknowns' from the ground — were ordered to prepare to support the army units coming from outside.

Apparently, information about these preparations was brought by the Turkish side to the command of the Russian group in Syria and directly to Moscow. Since the reaction followed immediately - a unilateral ceasefire and suspension of offensive operations. It was as timely as possible, since everything was literally on the verge of a humanitarian catastrophe in the form of a breakthrough of refugees and the entry of Turkish troops, since the most unpredictable consequences could follow.

Now you can breathe out - the crisis, if not over, then at least is postponed. It is time for diplomacy. However, the battles at the negotiating table are sometimes no less fierce and dramatic, and we will soon have to make sure of this, observing how Moscow and Ankara are going to agree on Idlib. This is only the threat of a humanitarian catastrophe and military incidents slightly weakened - the contradictions between the external players have not disappeared.

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