Russia, the United States, and Turkey have called on each other to bring an end to the ongoing crisis in Syria.
US President Donald Trump on Thursday sent a warning message to Russia, Syria, and Iran, which have been waging a military offensive to retake the rebel-held Idlib province, to halt their attacks on civilians.
“Russia, Syria, and Iran are killing, or on their way to killing, thousands of innocent civilians in Idlib Province. Don’t do it! Turkey is working hard to stop this carnage,” the US president tweeted.
However, Russia called on Turkey to improve efforts on implementing the 2018 Sochi memorandum on Syria’s Idlib, the last major rebel-held enclave in northwest Syria where Turkey is expected in terms of the deal to remove the “extremist” fighters.
“We advocate to ensure the full implementation if Idlib memorandum from Sochi in September 2018, especially when it comes to creating a demilitarized zone and separating the so-called moderate opposition from terrorists,” said Maria Zakharova, the spokesperson of the Russian foreign ministry.
The US and Russian remarks came after a Turkish delegation held inconclusive talks on Monday with the Russians in Moscow in a bid to reach a new ceasefire agreement following increased Russian and Syrian army attacks on Syria’s northwestern Idlib.
“We are closely following the process for an end to the attacks, and these attacks should come to an end immediately and implement under a new ceasefire. This is our main expectation from the Russian side,” Turkish presidential spokesman Ibrahim Kalin said on Tuesday following the talks.
On Sunday, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said Turkey cannot handle a new influx of refugees as thousands of civilians reportedly began migrating toward Turkey.
The bombardments have caused more than 216,000 civilians to flee their homes, according to the Syrian Response Coordination Group, a relief organization.
Trump, who has fostered close ties with Erdogan despite harsh criticism by members of his party and administration, praised his Turkish counterpart in his Thursday’s Tweet.
Previously, the US president had faced harsh criticism by many for his order to withdraw the U.S. troops from the region just before a Turkish operation on October 9 against the US-backed Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG).
Turkey aims to clear the region of the YPG and to set up a “safe zone” where it plans to resettle up to one million Syrian refugees currently living in Turkey.
Turkey sees the YPG as the Syrian offshoot of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) that has waged an insurgency against the Turkish state since the 1980s.
The U.S. has withdrawn from the disputed areas to the oil-rich regions, confronting Ankara with Moscow there.
During the operation, the YPG struck a deal with Damascus in a bid to fend off the Turkish attack.
Turkey put an end to its operation on October 22 following deals with the US and Russia. However lately the Turkish side has since claimed that Russia and the U.S. had not honored their pledges, calling on them to do so.
Turkey’s authorities have repeatedly expressed doubts over Russian claims that the YPG militia had withdrawn from the planned “safe zone” in northern Syria.
Erdogan vowed late in October that Turkey would act alone to clear the area of the YPG if Russia fails to fulfill its obligations under the agreement.
On the other end, Moscow and Damascus argue that Erdogan’s Turkey has not fulfilled its part of the Sochi agreement, another de-escalation deal between Turkey, Russia and Iran struck in 2018, and failed to remove the “extremist” fighters from the agreed territory.
Ever since the Syrian civil war erupted in 2011, Turkey and Russia have been supporting opposing groups. Moscow and Tehran support the al-Assad regime, while Ankara has been backing rebel groups, notably the former al-Qaeda affiliate Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS).
Therefore, Russia-backed forces of Al-Assad have been pushing towards Turkey-backed rebels in Idlib since April, aiming to reopen a strategic highway nearby Idlib which has been closed since 2012.
With the advancement of al-Assad forces in Idlib, Erdogan has shifted his priority to prevent a mass influx of refugees from the region. He was calling for al-Assad’s ousting at the beginning of the civil war.
In its new stance, Turkey wants free elections in Syria that are monitored by the United Nations (UN), agreeing to work with anyone to be elected in a fair election.
The deal between Ankara and Moscow in October has not mentioned anything about Idlib.
Speaking to Italy’s Rai News 24 in an interview in early December, Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad said Russia’s deal with Turkey did not amount to support for its invasion but rather an attempt to convince the Turks to leave the country.
According to some analysts, with the latest Ankara-Moscow memorandum, Russian President Vladimir Putin has emerged as the most powerful player in Syria’s complex war in its ninth year, replacing the US influence in the region.
Turkey’s strongman has not received any backing regarding his calls for support and plans for setting up the zone. Instead, he has faced condemnation over his unilateral decisions on the region, such as the Turkish offensives in the area.