Ceasefire: what comes next in Idlib?

After Russia's President Putin and his Turkish counterpart Erdoğan agreed a ceasefire for the Syrian province of Idlib, which has been the scene of intense fighting for months, the conflict has practically disappeared from the European public's eye - not least because of the corona crisis.

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The Irish Times (IE) /

The forgotten catastrophe

Caught in the grips of the corona crisis the world has lost sight of the misery of millions of people in the Syrian city of Idlib, The Irish Times complains:

“A world suddenly preoccupied with the coronavirus pandemic as an existential threat must not forget this other imminent threat to its civilised values in Idlib. ... Idlib's civilian population is fully entitled to feel let down by the rest of the world as it faces into a final lethal battlefield without any indication that international diplomacy can head off such a calamity. There is still scope and time for the European Union to redouble its efforts to head off a bloodbath that will send so many desperate people to seek refuge here if it happens.”

Kleine Zeitung (AT) /

A victory for Erdoğan

Commeting in the Kleine Zeitung, free-lance Russia correspondent Stefan Scholl sees the ceasefire in Idlib as a success for Turkey:

“It means that Erdoğan and not Putin emerges as the winner. ... The ceasefire puts an end, for the time being, to the Syrian and Russian military pressure on the last rebel stronghold - and thus also on the over 3.5 million refugees there. ... Yesterday Putin spoke once more in the Kremlin of the inviolability of Syria's territorial sovereignty, however in Idlib the military restoration of this sovereignty has failed for the time being ... But at least the Kremlin needn't worry so much now about deep cracks opening up in the close economic cooperation with Ankara. Turkey is one of Russia's most important neighbours. The Russians don't want to spoil their relations with it over Idlib.”

Tages-Anzeiger (CH) /

A victory for Putin

Tomas Avenarius, the Süddeutsche Zeitung's Middle East correspondent, counters that it is Russia that has won against Turkey here. The Tages-Anzeiger republishes his commentary:

“Turkish leader Recep Tayyip Erdoğan came to the Kremlin on Thursday as a supplicant. The war in Idlib can no longer be won either by him or his Syrian rebel allies. ... At best, his forces can delay the victory of Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad - at the cost of Turkish soldiers' lives. ... As long as Putin holds his hand over Assad, Erdoğan will remain the loser. And in other respects Erdoğan is dependent on Putin too. ... If the two countries become embroiled in an economic war, Ankara is likely to come out losing. ... These are all reasons for Putin to keep Erdoğan on tenterhooks. The Kremlin can generously offer Ankara a ceasefire in Idlib, but it can resume its sophisticated game whenever it wants to.”

Ta Nea (GR) /

EU must give up role of passive spectator

The EU must finally take a more forceful stance in the Syrian conflict, Ta Nea demands:

“Moscow is now a major player in the region and its influence is inversely proportional to that of other strong players such as the US and the EU. ... That does not mean that Europe can reconcile itself to this reality. Its fortunes cannot rely on the brawn of the Russian leader at one meeting or another. The EU ought to have a say on what is going on in Idlib ... From that perspective, Germany has an historic obligation to lead Europe to abandon the role of passive observer and make it an active player. Of course, that can certainly not be done by offering a few tens of millions of euros to the Turkish Coast Guard.”

Keskisuomalainen (FI) /

An explosive combination of interests

So many players are involved that there is no end to the war in sight, Keskisuomalainen laments:

“For Russia, it's about gaining access to a region of geopolitical significance, bolstering its status as a major power and maintaining its military and political might by gaining war experience and exporting arms. ... Erdoğan will soon have to weigh in with all the clout he has, because despite his threats the EU appears unwilling to pay for his expensive war of aggression. Turkey has interests in the Syrian crisis but it lacks the capacity to defend them. The US and the EU have resources, but the US lacks the will and the EU the political capacity to intervene. Russia, for its part, has both the capacity and the will to act. So the war will continue and the civilian population will be crushed.”