Gift to the Sultan - Text of Russia-Turkey Agreement of September 17, 2018, Establishing Turkish Protectorate of Idlib
by John Helmer - Dances with Bears
September 20, 2018
Moscow - A copy of the Russian-Turkish agreement, negotiated on Monday in Sochi by President Vladimir Putin and President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, has appeared. If its authenticity is confirmed, it will mark the first official Russian acknowledgement of partition of Syria, allowing Turkey to resume control of the Ottoman territory in northwestern Syria which was lost following the Turkish defeat in World War I.
According to the published terms, Putin has agreed to Turkey playing the role of “guarantor” of ceasefires throughout Syria.
Putin has also accepted reinforcement and expansion of Turkish military forces in the Idlib governorate according to the formula of “fortification” of Turkish “observation posts”; their number, already twelve, has not been restricted in area or limited in manning and firepower in the new pact.
Putin also agreed to “take all necessary meassures to ensure that military operations and attacks on Idlib will be avoided and the existing status quo will be maintained.” This is Russia’s undertaking to prevent the Syrian Government and its forces from reclaiming Syrian territory and resuming sovereingty lost to the US and NATO-backed forces seeking to take power in Damascus.
The full extent of the new Turkish-ruled territory has been postponed, according to the wording of the Sochi pact. “The delineation of the exact lines of the demilitarised zone will be determined,” Point 4 says, “through further consultations.” This proviso allows Turkish forces to consolidate their territorial control eastward towards Aleppo, under Russian cover, ignoring the Syrian government.
The one-page English-language version of the agreement of September 17 has been published by an English-language website based in Abu Dhabi called The National. The text claims two language versions, Russian and English, have “equal legal force”. No Turkish version has been issued officially. A translation into Turkish has been circulating on the internet; this twitter feed source, taking its Arabic name from a town in the Hama governorate of Syria, appears to be hostile to the Syrian Government. The English version has been reproduced by Al-Jazeera but without authentication.
The text of the Sochi agreement now in circulation is an attachment to a letter from the Russian and Turkish representatives to the United Nations (UN), Vasily Nebenzia and Feridun Sinirlioglu, relaying the agreement to the President of the UN Security Council – currently the US – and the UN Secretary-General. Their letter is dated September 18. Read the letter of relay and the text of the Sochi Agreement in full here.
At the UN in New York, Nebenzia’s office was asked to authenticate his letter and the text of agreement; he refused. Sinirlioglu was also asked for authentication of the documents; he too refused.
An accompanying note from the UN Security Council (UNSC) President, relaying the documents to the fifteen member states of the Council says: “this letter and its enclosure will be issued as [sic] document of the Security Council under the symbol S/2018/852”. This missing word may be a typo; it may indicate fabrication of the document. When a check for the document S/2018/852 was run through the UN document archive, this is the report:
A panel of six Russian military and security experts in Moscow was asked to review the document and say if they and their sources believe it to be genuine. Five of the experts were unwilling to respond. A sixth said it was up to the Defence Ministry to verify the document. The Defence Ministry’s press office requested the question by email but didn’t reply.
Independent Turkish reporting of the negotiations between Putin and Erdogan on Monday called the outcome “a major diplomatic win for Ankara”.
The Turkish state news agency Anadolu has published a map it claims to illustrate the Sochi agreement, with Turkish territory coloured green on the map, moving eastwards into the Syrian province of Aleppo. The Syrian Government is referred to on the Turkish map as “regime”.
“What Erdoğan did was simply reap the fruits of his own specific foreign policy”, reported one of his media supporters in Istanbul.
“That this result was achieved in the bilateral meeting with Putin and not at the summit attended by the Iranian leader ten days ago is certainly a matter that requires attention.”
The Sochi agreement means Turkish consolidation of Syrian territory and military occupation until the ouster of Bashar al-Assad’s government in Damascus: this is the assessment of the Turkish government media. “The Idlib agreement also protects the gains procured through the Afrin and Euphrates Shield operations,” reported Mehmet Acet, a state television veteran. “The communication of demands between Putin and Erdoğan turned the Damascus regime’s desire to capture the remaining Syrian territory into a mere dream. [Until Assad is removed] it will not be an option for Turkish forces to withdraw from Syria.”
A Turkish military analyst for Al-Monitor commented that the terms of the agreement are favourable to Erdogan, if ambiguous at the moment, perhaps temporary. “The question now is how this comprehensive plan will be implemented in one month. Less than two weeks ago, at a meeting in Tehran, Putin had objected to Erdogan’s call for a cease-fire, saying, ‘Hayat Tahrir al-Sham [HTS] and other radicals aren’t at the [negotiating] table. We cannot give guarantees on their behalf.’ In return for the one month it gained at Sochi, Ankara is giving those guarantees on behalf of radical groups in Idlib. Perhaps Moscow has realized it couldn’t cope with a humanitarian tragedy at Idlib and wants to guarantee the security of its military presence in northern Syria, notably Khmeimim air base, with Ankara’s assurances.”
“Now the most argued critical issue is, how can Ankara assure Moscow that Idlib radicals will agree to a demilitarized zone and removal of their heavy weapons? One likely answer is that Ankara will rely on its military power and its substantial influence on the armed opposition groups to convince them. Ankara primarily reinforced each of its 12 military outposts with 80 to 1,000 mechanized infantry and commando troops (totaling 1,200-1,300) and equipped the outposts with multiple rocket launchers and other protection measures, and seriously buttressed its military presence around Idlib. Ankara also sealed off the border west and north of Idlib [city] with military reinforcements.”
“But Turkey’s increased military preparations in Idlib province are only for defensive action, as its 12 outposts insulate Idlib from pro-Iran militias south of Aleppo and those controlled by Syrian forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad in the southeast. There are also restraints on Ankara’s military capabilities at Idlib, most notably the absence of air superiority. The Sochi summit didn’t refer to air superiority.”
Military observers believe the Israeli air attack on Latakia on Monday, supported by the French Navy, as well as US, Italian and British Air Force aircraft (according to this independent tracker), has sharply curtailed Russian air superiority in Syria. For details of the Latakia operation, read this. On Russian air superiority in Syria since April, click.
In Point 2 of the agreement with Erdogan, Putin agreed to halt Russian air sorties against targets in Idlib, conceding that “all necessary measures to ensure that military operations and attacks on Idlib will be avoided” will now mean that Turkish-occupied Idlib is a no-fly zone for the Russian Air Force.
MAP OF TURKISH “OBSERVATION POSTS” ALONG THE DEMILITARIZED ZONE OF IDLIB, THIS WEEK
In Point 7, Putin agreed to patrols of Idlib by Turkish forces and patrols by Russian military police of the demilitarization lines. Russian air operations will be limited to “monitoring with UAVs [Unmanned Aerial Vehicles, drones] along the boundaries of the demilitarised zone.” The Turkish Army has already started sending drones to the south of its southernmost “observation post” towards the Orontes River, in Syrian territory.