Syria and Russia's assault on Idlib can trigger a domino effect of humanitarian and political catastrophes.
Due to its 130-kilometre border with Turkey, the northwestern Syrian city of Idlib has received the most refugees of any city during the Syrian civil war.
As you may recall, Idlib, which plays host to approximately four million refugees, was captured by opposing military forces and militant groups in March 2015. Turkey, Russia, and Iran met in Astana in 2017 and declared Idlib and the surrounding region a de-escalation zone.
However, the promises haven't been kept.
Attacks on Idlib and the surrounding regions have continued for almost three years. This has caused around 1.3 million refugees to migrate to areas near the Turkish border since the beginning of 2019, and 1,800 civilians have died in the bombings.
Last month, it was announced that 188 civilians, including women and children, were killed by a Russian air strike. Apart from this, the number of civilians fleeing to the regions near the Syria-Turkey border has reached 300,000 due to the relentless ground and air attacks carried out on Idlib and the surrounding areas.
So why is Idlib so important?
If Assad takes control of Idlib, it will be a significant milestone in the civil war. Dominating this province, controlled by rebels and opposition, will be the final evidence of victory for Damascus. Regaining control of the city and controlling the critical highways that surround it will bring significant economic advantages to Assad.
Russia desires full control in Syria and Russia is the primary reason behind the Assad regime's endurance. Calling Idlib a lair of terrorists, Russia argues that by supporting Assad, it is helping to free the area of terrorists.
Iran wants Shia power and influence in the region to continue and for Syria to be a buffer zone and an ally against the threats from the West.
On the other hand, the US desires to control the region through the YPG-PKK terror organisations and prevent Russia from making an impact.
Let's now talk about its importance for Turkey. By having control over moderate opponents in the area, Turkey diminishes Assad's power and protects peace in the region. If the Syrian regime takes control forces Idlib faces into a new wave of migration, Idlib is the epicentre for that. We must remember that Turkey has twelve observation posts in the Idlib de-escalation zone.
Turkey and the US are on the same page about Idlib. No matter how much the two NATO allies disagree on the issue of the YPG-PKK, they both want Assad removed and the killing of Idlib's civilians to stop. From time to time, President Donald Trump shows his appreciation for Turkey's efforts in the region.
Similarly, Ambassador James Jeffrey, the US Special Representative for Syria, is in Turkey almost every month, conducting meetings with his counterparts about regional developments.
In January, the United Nations called on Russia and Assad to cease the massacre. In December, Russia and China vetoed the European Union countries' proposal for Idlib at the United Nations Security Council. The states that had prepared the plan stated that almost 1 million people had left their homes since the start of the last military operation by Syrian forces and Russian air support, four months ago. Thus, Russia, an ally of Assad, had rejected a UN Security Council bill for the 13th time since 2011, when the Syrian war began.
Presently, the humanitarian suffering and massacres continue in Syria. In my meetings with Syrians living in the US, they say that nothing will change as long as Russia and Iran support Assad.
We see that the United Nations and the West are doing nothing about the suffering in Syria besides conveying pointless condemnations. We all have seen that Turkey has embraced 3.5 million Syrians - in addition to taking diplomatic efforts, such as those in Astana and Sochi.
Through its successful military operations in the northeastern region, the country has not given terrorist hotbeds a chance to survive. So we are talking about Turkey, a country that doesn't speak about promises but acts and works toward ending this tragedy.
Unfortunately, as long as Russia and Iran use Assad as a puppet, there will be no change in the situation. It goes without saying that Russia is not sincere and is stalling Turkey.
We also need to underline that Russia doesn't acknowledge the PKK as a terrorist organisation. For its gains, Russia will continue to project the image of a tour de force in the region by filling the vacuum that US inaction has left in the Middle East. Of course, this show of power will be tainted by the blood of women and children.
Source: TRT World