In a surprising turn of events, Russia and Turkey agreed to create a demilitarized zone in Syria to limit civilian casualties. On September 10th, Russian President Vladimir Putin and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan met in Sochi, Russia, to discuss the terms and conditions of the plan, coming to an agreement at the end of the meeting. Syria’s Bashar al-Assad, however, was not invited to this event.
According to the Wall Street Journal, both countries agreed that they would take all heavy weaponry and radical groups out of the demilitarized zone by October 10th, which would act as a buffer between rebel and Syrian forces. The zone itself would be a 10 to 12-mile corridor to allow contact between rebel and pro-Assad forces.
“With this agreement, I believe we have prevented a huge humanitarian crisis,” said Erdogan in a press conference following the meeting. This seems to be largely accurate, as the United Nations has warned of a humanitarian crisis in the making had the Syrian army launched an attack, particularly on the city of Idlib. Likewise, a United States State Department official has commented that “an offensive by the Assad regime and its allies against the densely populated Idlib province would be a reckless escalation and would have serious consequences for Syria and the surrounding region.”
It is unclear if this buffer zone would include the city of Idlib, home to an estimated 3 million people from all sides: rebels, pro-Assad, Turkish and Russian forces. According to The Guardian, the precise boundaries of the demilitarized zone was not finalized by the leaders at the summit, other than that it would be along the current lines of conflict between rebel and Syrian forces. However, Russian Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu said after the agreement was made that there would be no military operations in Idlib. This was confirmed by Al Jazeera‘s Rory Challands, who reported that the deal ruled at imminent offensive on idlib.
According to the BBC, Idlib is also a strategic area both domestically and internationally. Idlib borders Turkey to the North and is a nexus for highways running throughout the country. If Idlib is retaken by the government, it would leave rebels fractured and divided, preventing a possibility of an organized front.
On face value, this is a great humanitarian move. Civilians, caught amidst the fighting of rebel and pro-Assad forces that was escalated by foreign geopolitical forces, are the ones who are most vulnerable. A demilitarized zone would allow for some resemblance of a peaceful life without being pawns for a game that they’re not players to.
Furthermore, this act of diplomacy could be a seed for future diplomatic solutions. An instance of diplomacy gives credence and credibility, allowing for trust between the two nations. This could translate into attempts to find diplomatic solutions to the problem that is the proxy war of Syria.
But as good as this demilitarized zone is, it is symptomatic of a larger problem of geopolitical proxy war. The fact that Russia and Turkey are able to decide on zones of conflict and peace on foreign soil shows how little agency Syria has in their own politics the interests of other nations. It would equally follow then that the lives of civilians aren’t in the hands of a foreign government, as they decide on what happens to the nation.
It also creates the question of times after peace. If foreign nations can decide without the consent of the people within the nation, it’s likely that foreign nations will decide on the fate of the nation. This means that the nation that Syrians imagine will only exist so long as other nations permit it so in a manner reminiscent of cold war.
While this buffer zone is a solution to the pressing issues of human life, it is not a solution to the geopolitical issue that Syria has become.
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