It is also suspected that it has not truly made an effort to do so, given how ambiguous its relations with many of these groups seem to be.
Under these circumstances, the future of the agreement seems relatively predictable. The ceasefire, under the current conditions, is unlikely to hold. Once the regime has regained its strength, it will resume the reconquest of the Idlib province, with support from the Russians. The Turks may again pull out their swords and resume the battle, as they did with undoubtable effectiveness this February. Can they really cope with a further deployment of Russian force if Putin decides this time to end it? Will Ankara have any other choice but to try and obtain a new "security corridor", this time along its border, in order to at least keep an agreement on a "buffer zone" intended to prevent a mass arrival of Syrian refugees? 3.5 million of them are currently in the Idlib region. This is in any case the scenario that Westerners should reflect on. This brings with it a probability of large-scale massacres, given Assad's and Russia's strategy of targeting civilian populations, as well as the resistance that armed groups will put up in response.
It also carries two major dangers. On the one hand, major population displacements – and infiltration by terrorists – as the Turks may not be able to plug the inevitable breaches that will open up on their borders. For the sake of humanity, one must hope that such gaps do exist, but Erdogan will not hesitate to open the floodgates to Europe as well. On the other hand, whatever form the regime and its sponsors’ reconquest of Idlib takes, there is a very high risk that it will result in maximum resentment on the part of Recep Tayyip Erdogan towards his allies, whom he will not fail to accuse of treason.
After what has just happened in the province of Idlib, Europeans and Americans alike should stop looking the other way regarding the Syrian crisis. They cannot anymore count on one last spasm definitely bringing the lid down on the Syrian people. Besides, this geopolitical moment that has just been mentioned reopens a possibility for action.
One lesson from recent events is that Europe needs Turkey and Turkey needs its Atlantic allies. Erdogan's exclusive tête-à-tête with Putin places the former in the hands of the latter. It is in this spirit that Chancellor Merkel has proposed the establishment of a no-fly zone, banning military air operations over Idlib. This long-standing idea comes up against the fact that Russia certainly has no intention of depriving itself of control over any fraction of the airspace. Is it however not time for Europeans to at least partially re-engage with Turkey and on the Syrian issue?
- Re-engagement with Turkey. The angle through which it is possible to resume a more productive dialogue with Ankara would be to provide Turkey with concrete support for implementing the Moscow agreement on Idlib. NATO could, for example, help Turkey strengthen its defenses for the next showdown and provide the Turks with other reassurances. A considerable effort must also be made on the humanitarian front. Where Turkey's allies – in a coalition – could make a real difference would be in providing technical support in the difficult task of sorting out armed groups combating HTS and other jihadists. If the Turkish government does not clarify its strategy on this point and, to put it bluntly, does not cut the Gordian knot of its dangerous connections, the inevitable resumption of the Battle of Idlib can only end badly for them.
- A qualified re-engagement. Supporting Turkey on Idlib does not mean excursing it from all other disputes that Recep Tayyip Erdogan, in the course of his external adventures, has with his Atlantic allies. Support for Idlib would put the Westerners in a better position to raise with the Turks – and especially with Turkish public opinion and the Turkish political class where Erdogan is more and more isolated – the difficult disputes that remain standing: Turkish policy in the North-East of Syria, the S-400 missile, violation of Cypriot sovereignty, intervention in Libya and especially the arms embargo.
- Re-involvement in the Syrian dossier in order to relaunch a political dialogue. If the Europeans should let go of an illusory rapid ending to the game in Syria, President Putin also should see that concluding his campaign in Syria may prove to be very difficult. In Idlib, in recent weeks, we have moved away from a scenario in which Russia has almost sole control over the balance of power. Time has perhaps come for Putin to engage in real negotiations, as he is the only one who can reconcile his own agenda with those of Turkey and the West. If the West is able to support the Turks on Idlib and if the Trump administration maintains its policy of strangling the Assad regime with the Caesar Act, it would be in the West’s interest to take this initiative up again with a view to a political settlement.
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