BEIRUT, LEBANON (12:00 A.M.) – The Russian and Turkish presidents reached an agreement on September 17th, 2018 to implement a 20km-deep “demilitarized zone” along the Syrian Arab Army-jihadist front-lines in the Idlib, Hama, Latakia, and Aleppo governorates.
However, despite claims of successfully implementing the Sochi Agreement by both Russia and and Turkey, the reality is that there is no demilitarized zone and there is no ceasefire.
In fact, the Sochi Agreement has done little to end the violence that is plaguing northwestern Syria.
The agreement itself is nothing more than Turkey protecting their interests in Idlib while they send their allied rebel forces (National Liberation Front) to the front-lines with the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF).
Furthermore, as a result of this rebel redeployment, the jihadists from Hay’at Tahrir Al-Sham have taken over several areas in northwestern Syria, including most of western Aleppo.
With Hay’at Tahrir Al-Sham now deeply embedded in western Aleppo, the total number of attacks on the provincial capital have increased exponentially over the last two months.
The Russian Federation has repeatedly stated that the terrorist groups in the Aleppo and Idlib governorates must be eliminated, but there has been little movement on the ground and heavy resistance from their Turkish partners, who maintain several observation posts in northwestern Syria.
Prior to this agreement, Hay’at Tahrir Al-Sham had suffered several devastating losses at the hands of the Syrian military; however, since September 2018, the jihadist group has been able to regroup and carry out many attacks against the government forces.
Most of these attacks by Hay’at Tahrir Al-Sham have taken place inside the demilitarized zone, which also highlights the main issue about the Sochi Agreement – there is no agreement between the warring parties.
This so-called demilitarized zone that Turkey and Russia often mention doesn’t actually exist.
The jihadists and their rebel allies didn’t withdraw from the demilitarized zone, nor did they agree to.
Turkey watches daily attacks in northern Hama from their observation post in Morek, but nothing changes.
Russian advisors are also entrenched in the northern Hama towns of Mhardeh and Al-Suqaylabiyeh, but the clashes continue.
This mythical demilitarized zone exists only on paper and when both sides want to blame one another for the violence.
In the end, Hay’at Tahrir Al-Sham is still getting stronger and with the Turkish-backed rebels preparing for war against the SDF, one has to question what Turkey’s contingency is when Russia no longer tolerates the jihadist presence.