Brothers and Sisters in Idlib: Reject the Deal between Putin and Erdoğan! Do not Hand over Weapons! Turkey’s Army is not your Ally! Continue the Struggle against the Regime and Russia!
By Michael Pröbsting, International Secretary of the Revolutionary Communist International Tendency (RCIT), 18.09.2018 (6.30 UTC Time), www.thecommunists.net
The latest meeting of Russian President Vladimir Putin and Turkish President Tayyip Erdoğan on 17 September resulted in a new deal concerning Idlib, the last citadel of the Syrian Revolution. If this deal is successfully implemented, it would represent a devastating blow for the liberation struggle against the Assad tyranny. All supporters of the Syrian Revolution must recognize the meaning of the Sochi Surrender Deal and draw the necessary conclusions! (1)
While some details of this deal are still unclear at this point, we already know several key elements: (2)
* Russian and Turkish troops will enforce along the contact line between the armed opposition and government troops a demilitarized zone of a depth of 15-20 km. (See Map 1 below.) This should be implemented until 15 October.
* By 10 October, all heavy weapons (e.g. tanks, rockets systems and mortars) of all rebel groups must be withdrawn.
* Reuters reports that the Sochi deal even includes that “heavy weapons held by Syrian rebels in Idlib city would be handed over by 20 October.” However, this information has not been confirmed by other sources until now.
* While rebels allied with Turkey can stay inside this so-called Demilitarized Zone, all “radical factions” (i.e. those who are determined to continue the struggle against the Assad tyranny like HTS, TIP, HaD) must withdraw.
* The demilitarized zone will be monitored by “mobile patrol groups” of the Turkish as well the Russian army.
* At the joint press conference with Putin, Erdoğan announced: “The opposition will continue to remain in the areas where they are. In return, we will ensure that the radical groups, which we will determine with Russia, will not operate in the area under discussion.” This means that Russia will decide which rebel factions can stay and which must be expelled. Only those rebel groups will be allowed to stay which are willing to execute Russia’s decision to expel the “radical” groups.
* Putin announced at the same press conference that both sides agreed to "resume transit traffic along the Aleppo-Latakia and Aleppo-Hama highways by the end of 2018."
* Finally, Russia and Turkey also agreed to advance the so-called “political process” by continuing “the efforts to form the constitution committee from among the members of Syrian leadership, opposition forces and civil society." This is a meaningless point and reflects the project, born at the Astana negotiations between Russia, Iran and Turkey, to create the illusion of a political reform process under Assad’s regime with the purpose of integrating the “moderate opposition”.
What is the Meaning of the Sochi Deal?
No one should have any illusions about the meaning of the Sochi Deal. If implemented, it means a huge counterrevolutionary blow against the liberation struggle of the Syrian people!
The implementation of the demilitarized zone of a depth of 15-20 km, the withdrawal of all heavy weapons, and the expulsion of the determined forces willing to continue the struggle against the regime would mean effectively that the following:
* The rebels will lose their most fortified lines which they have built in order to defend Idlib against the looming assault of the Assadist, Iranian and Russian forces. In other words, it will weaken their possibility to avoid the annihilation of the last citadel of the Syrian Revolution. It makes them depended on the goodwill of Assad, Putin, Rouhani and Erdoğan.
* The rebels can no longer (or will have much more difficulties to) strike against the Russian military base at Hmeimim and other important military bases from which the Assadist forces have launched their artillery and air strikes against the Syrian people. At the same time, the Russian and Syrian air force can continue to operate from their bases. Remember, Putin and Assad can always claim that they attack so-called “terrorists” in Idlib to which they are formally entitled to by the Astana agreement (signed also by Erdoğan).
* The removal of HTS and other forces from the demilitarized zone will make it easier for Assad and Putin to attack the last liberated region at a later point. DEBKAfile, a usually well informed Israeli military intelligence website, made the consequences of such a retreat very clear: “This will suit Putin, because it removes the most effective force of resistance from the path of the prospective Russian-Iranian-Syrian offensive to recover Idlib. It moreover places the rebel militia, which has been plaguing the Russian Khmeimim air base with drone attacks, at a safe distance.” (3)
* In fact, the Sochi Surrender Deal plans the elimination/withdrawal of the determined liberation forces from much wider areas than the so-called demilitarized zone. Putin’s announcement that both sides agreed to "resume transit traffic along the Aleppo-Latakia and Aleppo-Hama highways by the end of 2018" has profound implications. As Map 2 below shows, the only existing highways between Aleppo-Latakia and Aleppo-Hama run through major towns like Jisr al-Shughur, Saraqib, Khan Sheikhoun and Maarat al-Numaan. This means that the liberation forces are obligated, under the Sochi Deal, to hand over control of strategic towns and effectively the whole south and east of Idlib to Turkish/Russian control. In effect, the Sochi Deal is in fact a major reconciliation agreement putting an end to the liberation struggle.
* The Sochi deal also means that the Turkish army will operate together with the Russian forces against the determined sections of the rebels (the so-called “terrorists”). Media outlets which are enthusiastic supporters of Assad and Putin are justifiable rejoicing. Russia’s Sputnik titles: “Turkey to Cooperate With Russia on Eliminating Terrorists in Idlib – Erdoğan” (4)
Does the Sochi Surrender Deal Save Idlib?
Erdoğan supporters defend the deal by claiming that it saves Idlib from a full-scale military assault. This is nonsense! Such claims can be made only by people who have learned nothing from the devastating defeats of the Syrian Revolution in the past few months. Have these people forgotten what happened to the so-called “de-escalation zones”?!
As it is well know, Russia, Iran and Turkey formally agreed in Astana in September 2017 to create four so-called “de-escalation zones” – in Ghouta, northern Homs, Deraa, and Idlib. In fact, these were agreements to pacify the liberation struggle and to allow the Assad regime to prepare its aggression. When Assad had finished his preparations, his army – with the military support of the Russian and Iranian forces and with the tacit agreement of Erdoğan – attacked and smashed one liberated enclave after the other. Ghouta was defeated in April this year. The Rastan pocket in Homs collapsed in May. And in June came the turn of Deraa. Anyone who trusts Assad or Putin that they will honor an agreement this time is a hopeless idiot! (5)
DEBKAfile claims that “the Idlib offensive planned by Russia, Iran and Syria has been postponed. (...) The Putin-Erdogan deal is unlikely to hold back rebel attacks on Syrian and Russian targets for long. In a couple of months, the trilateral Idlib offensive will most like take place after all.”
Naturally, we can’t know about the exact date of a future Assadist/Russian offensive. But it is obvious that the Sochi Deal, if implemented, is a major capitulation and opens the road for the liquidation of the heroic Syrian Revolution.
No One Should Be Surprised!
All these developments do not come as a surprise. The RCIT has warned many times about the treacherous role of the Erdoğan government and the Astana process. We wrote in May 2017, immediately after the agreement of Russia, Iran and Turkey about the creation of the so-called “de-escalation zones”:
“The Revolutionary Communist International Tendency calls upon all forces supporting the Syrian Revolution to unconditionally condemn the Astana agreement and openly refuse any cooperation with the Assad regime or the so-called "guarantors"! This deal is nothing but a dangerous conspiracy aimed at liquidating the Syrian Revolution by force of arms and placing the still-liberated areas under foreign occupation.“
We made already at that time clear that Putin, Rouhani and Erdoğan have agreed to bribe a section of the rebel leadership and to use them in order to attack the most determined forces of the liberation struggle like HTS:
“Finally, a crucial, if not the most important, goal of the deal is to split the rebel forces and to encourage the leadership of several factions to become accomplices in the liquidation of the liberation struggle. Behind the scenes, Russia, Iran, and Turkey, as well as the US and EU, are actively attempting to bribe the leaderships of various rebel forces into directing their struggle away from the forces of Assad and towards Hay'at Tahrir al-Sham.” (6)
We have repeated this warning many times since then. In an article from 4 August, we warned:
“In short, Putin, Rouhani, Erdoğan and Assad, with the support of the pro-Astana rebel leaders, have reached an agreement to pacify Idlib as the last citadel of the Syrian Revolution. While Assad’s army will take some sectors, Turkey and its pro-Astana “rebels” will assault the remaining liberation forces from within. The goal is to liquidate any meaningful opposition against the Astana process so that the Syrian Revolution can be liquidated. Turkey and its lackeys would administer Idlib in a way that it would no longer serve as a launching platform for attacks against the Assad regime. If the province will be handed over to Assad later or not, will be subject of future negotiations and dirty deals.” (7)
What Is To Be Done?
It is crucial that all supporters of the Syrian Revolution – in Idlib as well as internationally – strongly reject the Sochi Surrender Deal. Brothers and sisters, it is not too late! This sell-out can still be stopped!
We urge all factions of the liberation struggle to come out and to openly reject the deal between Putin and Erdoğan! Do not hand over any weapons! Do not voluntarily hand over any area to the Turkish-Russian troops! Continue the struggle against the Regime and Russia!
It is crucial to mobilize the masses on the streets and to show the world that the Syrian people reject the Sochi Surrender Deal! There are already reports about protest rallies. People spontaneously assembled in Binish on 17 September and protested against the Sochi surrender deal. They shouted slogans like "Our sons did not die in vain, our revolution against Assad will never stop."
There are also reports that HTS forces are determined to act against treacherous pro-Turkish factions. It is said that they took over the Deir Balout village controlled by Faylaq Al-Sham on 17 September.
On the other hand, no one should have any illusions. The pro-Turkish forces will fully mobilize to manipulate the people and make them believe that the Sochi Deal would benefit the Syrian people. These forces will help Turkey to implement the deal. They are certainly ready to disarm, expel and (if necessary) kill the determined liberation fighters. They have done this in the past and there is no reason to assume their loyalty to Erdoğan, instead of the Syrian people, has diminished. (8)
The next days will show how strong is the popular protest against the Sochi Surrender Deal and how much are forces like HTS, TIP and HaD willing to openly defy Turkey and to enter in confrontation with their troops. (9)
Furthermore, there are also other factors which can disrupt the deal. While both Iran as well as the U.S. have already indicated their support for the Sochi Deal (10), there are developments which could have unintended consequences. For example, as we are writing these lines, the Russian defense ministry announced that one of its military aircraft, an Il-20 turbo-prop plane used for electronic reconnaissance, with 14 people on board disappeared from radar screens over Syria. this happened at the same time as Israeli and French forces were mounting aerial attacks on targets in Syria. While the cause of the incident has not been announced until now, it is clear that this is a highly explosive issue! (11)
The RCIT repeats its call to the workers and popular mass organizations around the world to rally in support of the Syrian people!
* Down with the Sochi Surrender Deal!
* Defend Idlib! Defeat the Assadist, Russian and Iranian forces!
* Russian, Iranian, U.S. and Turkish troops – out of Syria!
* For a single Intifada from Idlib to Jerusalem, Basra, Cairo and Teheran!
* For a Workers and Poor Peasants Government!
* Build a Revolutionary Workers Party – nationally and internationally!
(1) The RCIT has supported the heroic Syrian Revolution from the very beginning. Our articles and statements are collected in a special section of our website: https://www.thecommunists.net/worldwide/africa-and-middle-east/collection-of-articles-on-the-syrian-revolution/.
(2) See on this: Maria Tsvetkova: Russia and Turkey agree to create buffer zone in Syria's Idlib, September 17, 2018 / https://www.reuters.com/article/us-mideast-crisis-putin-erdogan-hope/russia-and-turkey-agree-to-create-buffer-zone-in-syrias-idlib-idUSKCN1LX1BU; Idlib assault on hold as Russia, Turkey agree on buffer zone, 2018-09-18 https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2018/09/erdogan-putin-agree-de-militarised-zone-syria-idlib-180917142241897.html; Ayla Jean Yackley: Turkey, Russia agree to buffer zone in Syria’s Idlib, September 17, 2018 https://www.al-monitor.com/pulse/originals/2018/09/turkey-russia-agree-buffer-zone-syria-idlib-putin-erdogan.html; Russia Says Syrian Idlib Offensive Off the Table, Erdogan and Putin Agree on Buffer Zone, Sep 17, 2018 https://www.haaretz.com/middle-east-news/syria/russia-and-turkey-agree-to-buffer-zone-in-syria-s-idlib-offensive-off-the-table-1.6489477; 'No new offensive' on the Syrian rebel-held Idlib, says Russia, 17 September 2018 https://www.middleeasteye.net/Erdogan-Putin-Sochi-Idlib-demilitarised-zone-rebels; Maria Tsvetkova: Russia, Turkey agree to create buffer zone in Syria's Idlib, September 17, 2018 https://www.reuters.com/article/us-mideast-crisis-putin-erdogan-hope/russia-turkey-agree-to-create-buffer-zone-in-syrias-idlib-idUSKCN1LX1BU; Russia, Turkey agree to create demilitarised zone in Idlib, 17 September, 2018 https://www.alaraby.co.uk/english/news/2018/9/17/russia-turkey-agree-to-create-demilitarised-zone-in-idlib; David Kenner: A Temporary Reprieve for Syria’s Last Rebel-Held Province, 2018-09-17 https://www.theatlantic.com/international/archive/2018/09/idlib-assad-syria-putin-russia-turkey/570463/?utm_source=fbb; Russia, Turkey agree to establish demilitarized zone in Syria’s Idlib — Putin, September 17, 19:44 http://tass.com/world/1021965 Putin and Erdogan agree to call off Idlib offensive, buffer zone instead, Sep 17, 2018 https://www.debka.com/mivzak/164306/; Putin meets Erdogan at Sochi to cut a separate deal for Idlib, Sep 17, 2018, https://www.debka.com/putin-meets-erdogan-at-sochi-to-cut-a-separate-deal-for-idlib/
(3) DEBKAfile: Putin meets Erdogan at Sochi to cut a separate deal for Idlib, Sep 17, 2018, https://www.debka.com/putin-meets-erdogan-at-sochi-to-cut-a-separate-deal-for-idlib/
(4) Sputnik: Turkey to Cooperate With Russia on Eliminating Terrorists in Idlib – Erdoğan, 17.09.2018 https://sputniknews.com/middleeast/201809171068090843-turkey-russia-syria-idlib-terrorists/?utm_source=https://t.co/8JxWVD47I6&utm_medium=short_url&utm_content=j8aW&utm_campaign=URL_shortening
(5) On the RCIT’s assessment of the Astana deal see e.g.: Michael Pröbsting: Syrian Revolution: The Moment of Truth is Approaching! Rally to defend the Syrian Revolution against the Imperialist conspiracy called the "Astana Deal"! 20.09.2017, https://www.thecommunists.net/worldwide/africa-and-middle-east/syria-moment-of-truth-approaching/; RCIT: Syria: Defend Idlib against the Great Powers! Down with the reactionary Astana Deal! Defend the Revolution against the butcher Assad, against Russian and US Imperialism and the local Allies! Victory to the Struggle of the Workers and Oppressed! 04.08.2017, https://www.thecommunists.net/worldwide/africa-and-middle-east/defend-idlib-against-great-powers/; Michael Pröbsting: Syria: The Astana-Deal Struggle Intensifies. Some Notes on Recent Developments in the Syrian Civil War and the Dangers for the Liberation Struggle, 28 July 2017, https://www.thecommunists.net/worldwide/africa-and-middle-east/syrian-revolution-28-7-2017/; RCIT: Syria: Condemn the Reactionary Astana Deal! The so-called "De-Escalation Zones" are a First Step towards the Partition of Syria and a Conspiracy by the Great Powers to Defeat the Revolution, 7 May 2017, https://www.thecommunists.net/worldwide/africa-and-middle-east/astana-deal/; Michael Pröbsting: Is the Syrian Revolution at its End? Is Third Camp Abstentionism Justified? An essay on the organs of popular power in the liberated area of Syria, on the character of the different sectors of the Syrian rebels, and on the failure of those leftists who deserted the Syrian Revolution, 5 April 2017, https://www.thecommunists.net/theory/syrian-revolution-not-dead/ and chapter V of Michael Pröbsting: World Perspectives 2018: A World Pregnant with Wars and Popular Uprisings, February 2018, https://www.thecommunists.net/theory/worldperspectives-2018/chapter-v/
(6) Both quotes are from RCIT: Syria: Condemn the Reactionary Astana Deal! The so-called "De-Escalation Zones" are a First Step towards the Partition of Syria and a Conspiracy by the Great Powers to Defeat the Revolution, 7 May 2017, https://www.thecommunists.net/worldwide/africa-and-middle-east/astana-deal/
(7) Michael Pröbsting: Syria: Towards the Final Battle in Idlib. Assad, Russia, Iran and Turkey prepare for the final onslaught on the last Citadel of the Syrian Revolution, 04.08.2018, https://www.thecommunists.net/worldwide/africa-and-middle-east/syria-towards-the-final-battle-in-idlib/; see also: Michael Pröbsting: Erdoğan Offers “My Dear Friend” Putin to Disarm the Syrian Revolution. Mass demonstrations demand continuation of the struggle against the Assad tyranny as the counterrevolutionary forces prepare for a frontal assault on Idlib, 08.09.2018, https://www.thecommunists.net/worldwide/africa-and-middle-east/erdogan-offers-putin-to-disarm-the-syrian-revolution/
(8) See on the role of the pro-Astana factions Michael Pröbsting: Syria: Turkey's hidden war against HTS in Idlib. On the character of the military offensive of Nour al-Din al-Zenki and Ahrar al-Sham against Hayyat Tahrir al-Sham,25.02.2018, https://www.thecommunists.net/worldwide/africa-and-middle-east/turkey-s-hidden-war-against-hts-in-idlib/; Michael Pröbsting: Syria/Idlib: The Attack of the Astana Conspirators could be repelled thus far. Turkey’s allies Nour al-Din al-Zenki and Ahrar al-Sham continue their aggression against Hayyat Tahrir al-Sham. This represents a mortal danger for the Syrian Revolution! 05.03.2018, https://www.thecommunists.net/worldwide/africa-and-middle-east/syria-idlib-the-attack-of-the-astana-conspirators-could-be-repelled-thus-far/
(9) We have elaborated our characterization of HTS in a number of articles and statements. In particular we refer to RCIT: Denounce the US terror listing of Syria’s Hayyat Tahrir al-Sham! The Trump Administration delivers another blow to the Syrian Revolution. Continue the Solidarity with the liberation struggle of the Syrian people! 03.06.2018, https://www.thecommunists.net/worldwide/africa-and-middle-east/denounce-the-us-terror-listing-of-syria-s-hts/ Michael Pröbsting: Syria/Idlib: The Attack of the Astana Conspirators could be repelled thus far, 05.03.2018, https://www.thecommunists.net/worldwide/africa-and-middle-east/syria-idlib-the-attack-of-the-astana-conspirators-could-be-repelled-thus-far/; chapter V of Michael Pröbsting: World Perspectives 2018, https://www.thecommunists.net/theory/worldperspectives-2018/chapter-v/.
(10) See e.g. David Gauthier-Villars and Raja Abdulrahim: Russia, Turkey to Create Buffer Zone in Syrian Opposition Stronghold, Sept. 17, 2018 https://www.wsj.com/articles/russia-turkey-to-create-buffer-zone-in-syrian-opposition-stronghold-1537208165; Iran foreign minister says diplomacy averted war in Syria's Idlib, September 18, 2018 https://www.yenisafak.com/en/world/iran-foreign-minister-says-diplomacy-averted-war-in-syrias-idlib-3441324
(11) Russia says a military aircraft vanishes near Syria during Israeli, French strikes, September 18, 2018 / https://www.reuters.com/article/us-iran-nuclear-security/iran-says-u-s-pullout-from-nuclear-deal-threatens-regional-peace-idUSKCN1LX11W
Map 1: Possible Location of the Demilitarized Zone in the Greater Idlib Region
Map 2: Highways through the Area of Greater Idlib