Friday March 6, 2020
This week’s meeting between Presidents Putin and Erdogan in Moscow was cast as preventing a war between Russia and Turkey in Syria. War, however, was never on the horizon. Putin called Erdogan’s bluff, and the Turk folded.
Russian President Vladimir Putin and Turkish President Recep Erdogan, accompanied by their respective senior national security advisers, met in Moscow on March 5. The purpose of this emergency summit was to negotiate the terms of a ceasefire that would bring an end to heavy fighting in Syria’s Idlib province that threatened to draw their two nations into direct military conflict. After more than six hours of meeting, a new agreement, packaged as an “additional protocol” to the “Memorandum on Stabilization of the Situation in the De-escalation Area as of September 17, 2018” (better known as the “Sochi Agreement”), was agreed to by both parties.
A sputtering offensive
Over the course of a week, from February 27 through March 5, Syria’s Idlib province transitioned from being ground zero for a war between the Syrian army and allied forces, and heavily armed groups opposed to the rule of Syrian President Bashar Assad, into a geopolitical powder keg that threatened to pull the Turkish and Russian militaries into direct conflict with one another. On March 1, Turkey, following up on threats previously made by President Erdogan to drive the Syrian Army and its allies back to the line of demarcation set forth in the original Sochi Agreement, unleashed a major offensive, dubbed “Operation Spring Shield” and involving thousands of Turkish troops fighting alongside anti-Assad formations.