Last week the Syrian conflict returned to the spotlight. On Thursday Russia, Iran and Turkey signed a memorandum on creating “de-escalation zones” in Syria. It encompasses four areas: the northern province of Idlib, Eastern Gouta, the central province of Homs and southern part of Syria along its border with Jordan. In practice analysts say that these zones cover almost all areas controlled by rebels, who are allegedly not connected with the Islamic State. The signed agreement stipulates establishing checkpoints on the ground and unarmed civilians would be permitted to freely move between territories held both by government and opposition. According to the agreement, all military activities, including air strikes, should be ceased inside the zones. The agreement expressly excludes attacks on terrorists, such as Islamic State and al-Qaeda affiliates.
US State Department, which is not a party to the memorandum, supported the initiative, expressing concern over Iran’s role as a guarantor. On Wednesday during a press-conference following negotiations with Turkish president Recep Erdogan Vladimir Putin mentioned that during his recent phone conversation with US president Donald Trump they had touched upon the “de-escalation” zones and, as far as Putin had understood, the American administration supported the plan. However, given previous failed attempts of enforcing cease-fires in Syria, analysts’ main concern is the way the current regime will be monitored. The principal difference is that this time, according to the officials, some “third parties” could participate in observing the cease-fire.
It is worth noting that a degree of distrust in Syria is still extremely high as after a clearly benevolent effort to end fighting in the country some stakeholders and independent analysts and observers immediately voiced concern that the agreement could be a move to finally divide Syria while others claimed that it could be an opportunity for the government to regroup its forces. Nevertheless, everybody should understand that the current memorandum, at the very least, is aimed at helping to deliver humanitarian aid and, eventually, potentially could help displaced people and refugees return.
In general, last week was extremely busy diplomatically for the Russian President. He held talks with Turkish president Recep Erdogan and German chancellor Angela Merkel, but the phone call between the leaders of Russia and the US was the most widely covered as it took place amid growing tensions in the bilateral relations after the recent US airstrikes in Syria. According to the official statements, the presidents discussed Syria, North Korea and agreed on a face-to face meeting. Despite the recent reports about possible bilateral negotiations in May, which had been extensively discussed last weeks, the meeting is likely to be held at the sidelines of G20 summit in Hamburger in July.
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