Russia and the Assad Regime openly announce their plan to assault and occupy Idlib. Turkey helps them by pressurizing the liberation fighters to accept the Sochi Deal. Stand up against this treacherous deal before the Syrian Revolution is lost!
Article (with Map) by Michael Pröbsting, International Secretary of the Revolutionary Communist International Tendency (RCIT), 04.10.2018, www.thecommunists.net
The last days have proven, once more, the treacherous character of the Sochi Surrender Deal. At the beginning the rebels have been told that the 20 km-deep demilitarization zone will be half in rebel territory, half in Assadist-held territory. Now, Russia, insists that this zone will be exclusively applied within the rebel-held territories. There are very strong indications that Turkey is approving this. (1)
Hence, the Syrian rebels would lose their positions in north Latakia, Jisr al-Shughur, al-Ghab Plains (including Shashabo Mountain), Kafr Nabudah and Hbit until the northern outskirts of Khan Sheikhoun and Tamanah, all the way to the outskirts of Marrat al-Numan, Saraqib and the southern and western countryside of Aleppo. This is nearly half of the whole remaining liberated territory in the Greater Idlib region! (See the Map below)
As it is known Russia and the regime, with the agreement of Turkey, insist that those forces which, until now, have been the most consistent, hard-line factions in struggling against the tyranny would have to leave completely this zone. These forces include various petty-bourgeois Islamist movements like Hayyat Tahrir al-Sham, Tanzim Hurras al Din, Ansar ad-Din and the Turkistan Islamic Party. As a matter of fact, Putin – in line with Assad and Rouhani – insists that these factions must be annihilated as they represent the most feared enemy of Russian imperialism as well as the regimes in Damascus and Teheran. (2)
Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov made it very clear that imperialist Russia is determined to eliminate the “terrorists”, i.e. the intransigent factions among the liberation fighters. “For the fate of the Al-Nusra Front terrorists in Idlib after the signing of the Russian-Turkish agreement, there were a lot of information that they could be transferred to other hot spots like Afghanistan. (...) All this is unacceptable, terrorists to face two options, either to eliminate them or to prosecute them.” (3)
As a consequence many liberation fighters would have to retreat from this zone. Furthermore all heavy military vehicles (such as tanks, BMPs, etc.) have to be withdrawn from this area, while Assad’s army could maintain its current positions.
Furthermore, Russia insists that the highways Aleppo-Hama and Aleppo-Latakia shall be re-opened again under the joint supervision of Russia and Turkey. Likewise, Russian troops would be granted full access to the demilitarization zone for “inspection purposes”. (4) This would effectively mean that Russian imperialism (and hence Assad) controls at least half of Idlib and the most important highways.
It is hardly surprising that the Assad regime is fully satisfied with the Sochi Surrender Deal. Syrian Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Walid Muallem said in his speech at the 73rd United Nations General Assembly: "We welcomed the agreement on Idlib reached in Sochi on September 17." (5) The regime is praising the deal because it knows that it will lead to regaining control over Idlib which means nothing less than liquidating the Syrian Revolution. The Iranian regime is cheering too. In fact, as Putin said himself, "it could have been impossible without those agreements being negotiated with Syria’s official government and also without Iran’s support." (6)
Turkey Objectively Aids the Goals of Russian Imperialism
True, Turkey protests against this or that demand of Russian imperialism. (7) But only a fool can ignore the bitter reality: Turkey has supported the treacherous Astana process from the very beginning. When the Russians and Assad attacked and conquered Ghouta, northern Homs, or Deraa, Erdogan didn’t lift a finger and continued its cooperation with Putin and Rouhani. Then Ankara declared HTS – the most important faction of the Syrian popular resistance – a “terrorist organization”. It also has pressurized this organization to dissolve. (8)
Likewise, Turkey’s secret service MIT works overtime to force HTS to agree to the expulsion of the foreign fighters in the ranks of the liberation forces. Ankara has also made clear that it is ready to use military force in order to expel the liberation fighters from the demilitarized zone. Since late April 2018, more than 330 liberation fighters have been assassinated in Idlib – the majority of them commanders and militants of HTS. It is a well-known secret that the Turkish MIT respectively its local agents are responsible for this tragedy. (9)
And, as we have noted above, Turkey accepts Russia’s demand that the demilitarization zone will be exclusively applied within the rebel-held territories.
Russia and the Assad regime already announce openly that the Sochi Deal is only a “temporary solution” and that they plan to attack and conquer Idlib soon. Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov makes no attempt to hide that the Sochi Deal is only a tactical step “to eradicate the terrorist threat" which is the Russian formulation of finally defeating the Syrian Revolution. He said to the media: “As for the Russian-Turkish agreement on Idlib, it is aimed primarily at eradicating the terrorist threat. (...) This is certainly an intermediate step, because only a demilitarized zone is being created.” (10)
Likewise, Russia’s Deputy Foreign Minister Mikhail Bogdanov said that the Sochi Deal “is temporary because the goal is to liberate all Syrian territory from any presence of terrorists.” He added that Idlib will experience the same fate as the rest of the de-escalation zones (i.e. that it will be conquered by the Assadist army). (11)
This means Turkey objective role now is to aid such a future assault by disarming, expelling and weakening the Syrian liberation forces so that later the Russian and Assadist forces will have an easy job of finally defeating them.
Only a fool can ignore the reality: Russia as an imperialist Great Power is the boss. Iran is an important regional power and acts as an important junior partner of Moscow. Assad mainly receives the orders from Moscow (and Teheran) and implements them. And the Turkish government evidently plays a secondary, subordinated role. It is vacillating between Russia, the European Union and the U.S. It tries to sell as expensive as possible its service as an order-preserving regional power in the Middle East in the interest of the imperialist powers. But irrespective of all maneuvering, Turkey will have to subordinate to one (or several) of these Great Powers.
Ankara’s own interests are primarily to expand its regional influence, to put down the Kurdish minority and to attract financial aid and foreign investment in order to stabilize its rotten capitalist economy. The Syrian rebels are only pawns in Ankara’s chess game. No one should have any illusions: the promises of Turkey to the Syrian rebels are worth nothing! Objectively, the role of Turkey is to “sell” the Sochi Surrender Deal to the rebels (by persuading, bribing and threatening) in order to make them comply.
Protest and Resistance
Unfortunately, the National Liberation Front – a coalition of various FSA and other factions – has stated their agreement with the Sochi Deal. Nasr al-Akl of the FSA Second Army characterized Turkey's effort as "a great success", maintaining that Turkey remained the main supporter of Syrians who demand freedom. A leader of the Nureddin Zengi Movement (a key force which started the reactionary civil war in Idlib against HTS in spring this year), described the Turkish role as "wonderful". Idrees al-Raad of Faylaq al-Sham added: "The success of the Turkish role in the Astana process was crowned by the recent agreement in Sochi, which was reflected in a clear desire of the people of Idlib. The Turkish brothers are securing the region, protecting and restoring stability and providing basic services for the people.” (12)
Such uncritical praise is not surprising as these FSA leaders are very close politically to Turkey and rely heavily on financial aid of Ankara.
However, not all rebels are capitulating to the Sochi Surrender Deal. Hurras al Din and Ansar ad-Din as well as some other groups have already publicly rejected the deal calling it a “great conspiracy.” (13) However, these are rather small factions. (14) The most significant movement is the HTS: It seems that a major faction struggle has begun inside HTS between an opportunist wing which is prepared to give in to the Russian-Turkish threats and another, hard-line wing which strongly opposes this. There are rumours about arrests of several prominent HTS figures like Sheikh Abu Asem, Sheikh Asim al-Masri and Abu Hud al-Iglami who are known as opponents of the Sochi Deal by their inner-party rivals. But at the moment, it is not clear what exactly has been the background of these arrests. (15)
Sheikh Abu Muhammad Al-Maqdisi, an influential Salafist-Islamist scholar, who wields influence inside HTS, has repeatedly denounced the Astana process as well as the Sochi Deal. In a statement released on 27 September 2018, he wrote that the liberation fighters must not surrender the weapons, not agree to the demilitarization zone, not surrender the wanted fighters, not rely on Turkey and Erdoğan and not rely on “the factions of humiliation and treachery”. He called to renew the struggle against the Assad regime and Russia. (16)
Clearly, if the majority of the HTS leadership would comply with the Russian-Turkish ultimatum, accept the Sochi Surrender Deal and dissolve or even help in the expulsion of foreign fighters, this would be a huge betrayal to the Syrian Revolution and a major blow back. However, even in such a case it is extremely unlikely that all HTS forces would accept this. It is rather more likely that an oppositional wing of the organization would split and continue the struggle.
There have also been already some popular demonstrations against the Russian presence. Other factions have also expressed their opposition against some aspects of the Sochi Deal. Most importantly Jaysh al-Ezzah, an important FSA faction in north Hama which is not part of the NLF, began to protest, after initially agreeing to the Sochi Deal. (17) It has state that the demilitarization zones should be implemented evenly, that they reject “Russian occupation patrols on all of our liberated territory” in buffer zones and that they refuse to open roads until the regime releases all detainees. Its leader Jaysh al-Ezzah said: “We are against this deal, which eats into liberated (rebel-held) areas and bails out Bashar al-Assad.” (18)
Even the NLF leadership rejected the presence of Russian forces on the demilitarized zone. Unfortunately, instead of fighting against the Russian, they said that they would rely on Turkey's promise of Russia not invading the liberated areas Syria. (19)
However, as long as these rebel factions are relying on Turkey and as long as they support the presence of the Turkish army in Idlib, their policy is in fact not one of continuing the liberation struggle but rather one of preparing the capitulation.
Organize the Resistance against the Sochi Surrender Deal!
The Revolutionary Communist International Tendency (RCIT) has supported the Syrian Revolution from the very first day. We defended it as an authentic popular uprising of the Syrian workers and peasants against the capitalist Assad tyranny. (20) We have also warned from the beginning about the treacherous character of the Astana process and, more recently, the Sochi Deal. (21)
No one should have any illusions: If the Sochi Surrender Deal is fully implemented, it will mean that the liberation forces will have lost half of Idlib as well as the control over the highways. It will most likely mean that many of the most intransigent fighters against Russia and Assad will have been expelled or killed and their organizations will have been dissolved or smashed. Idlib would be transformed into a Turkish colony or it would be attacked and conquered by Russia and Assad. In other words, the implementation of the Sochi deal would lead fast to the end of the glorious Syrian Revolution.
It is therefore crucial that all supporters of the Syrian Revolution – in Idlib as well as internationally – decisively reject the Sochi Surrender Deal. It is urgent to create a broad united front of all forces which reject the Sochi Surrender Deal. Most importantly, revolutionaries must launch a massive awareness campaign in order to explain to the Syrian people that they must not trust the Turkish government and its army. The security of Idlib must not be handed over to Turkey or those paid by it.
It is crucial to mobilize popular protest demonstrations against the Sochi deal and its consequences. We warn the brothers and sisters in the resistance not to rely exclusively on armed actions against the regime (which are of course completely legitimate). But first and foremost, one must stop the attempts to transform Idlib from a fortress of the Syrian Revolution into a colony of Turkey. If Idlib would become a de-facto province (or rather a Gaza strip) controlled by the Turkish army, the struggle against the regime would be over as Ankara wants stable and fraternal relations with Moscow (and therefore with its puppet in Damascus too).
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!
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) This has been confirmed by Naji Mustafa, the spokesman of the pro-Turkish rebel alliance “National Front for Liberation” who stated that Turkish authorities told the opposition that the demilitarised zone would be limited to opposition-held areas. (Ömer Özkizilcik: The armed Syrian opposition reacts to Idlib 'demilitarised zones', 2 October, 2018 https://www.alaraby.co.uk/english/indepth/2018/10/2/the-armed-syrian-opposition-reacts-to-idlib-demilitarised-zones)
(2) On the RCIT’s analysis of Russia as an imperialist power see the literature mentioned in the special sub-section on our website: https://www.thecommunists.net/theory/china-russia-as-imperialist-powers/. In particular we refer readers to Michael Pröbsting: Lenin’s Theory of Imperialism and the Rise of Russia as a Great Power. On the Understanding and Misunderstanding of Today’s Inter-Imperialist Rivalry in the Light of Lenin’s Theory of Imperialism, August 2014, http://www.thecommunists.net/theory/imperialism-theory-and-russia/; Michael Pröbsting: Russia as a Great Imperialist Power. The formation of Russian Monopoly Capital and its Empire – A Reply to our Critics, 18 March 2014, Special Issue of Revolutionary Communism No. 21 (March 2014), https://www.thecommunists.net/theory/imperialist-russia/.
(3) Lavrov puts Idlib militants in two inevitable options, Sep 29, 2018 https://en.muraselon.com/2018/09/idlib-militants-lavrov-syria/
(4) Has Erdogan betrayed Syrian rebels by concluding Idlib deal with Putin? Sep 30, 2018 https://en.muraselon.com/2018/09/syrian-rebels-idlib-deal-erdogan-putin/; see also Al Arabiya: Reports point to Turkish-Russian differences over Syria’s Idlib deal, 29 September 2018 https://english.alarabiya.net/en/News/middle-east/2018/09/29/Reports-of-Turkish-Russian-differences-over-Syria-s-Idlib-deal.html; Ibrahim Hamidi: Russian-Turkish Dispute Over Idlib Agreement Explanation- Sources, 29 September, 2018, https://aawsat.com/english/home/article/1410516/russian-turkish-dispute-over-idlib-agreement-explanation-sources
(5) Russia-Turkey agreement on Idlib coordinated with Damascus - deputy PM, September 29, 2018, http://tass.com/world/1023653; see also Syria minister vows Idlib will be recovered: newspaper, September 25, 2018 / https://www.reuters.com/article/us-mideast-crisis-syria-idlib/syria-minister-vows-idlib-will-be-recovered-newspaper-idUSKCN1M51A9
(6) Russia and Turkey fulfilling their agreement on Syria's Idlib – Putin, 04.10.2018 http://ednews.net/en/news/politics/324956-russia-and-turkey-fulfilling-their-agreement-on-syrias-idlib#.W7XFQWNjhnM.twitter
(7) Suleiman Al-Khalidi: Syrian rebels say Turkey promises no Russian patrols in Idlib zone, October 2, 2018, https://www.reuters.com/article/us-mideast-crisis-syria-idlib/syrian-rebels-say-turkey-promises-no-russian-patrols-in-idlib-zone-idUSKCN1MC2D9
(8) For our characterization of HTS see e.g. 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: 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/; Michael Pröbsting: World Perspectives 2018: A World Pregnant with Wars and Popular Uprisings, February 2018, Chapter V, https://www.thecommunists.net/theory/worldperspectives-2018/chapter-v/.
(9) Assassination targets a military leader in Hayyaat Tahrir al-Sham in the countryside of Idlib and another youth, raising the death toll to 326 since the escalation of these operations in late April, 01/10/2018 http://www.syriahr.com/en/?p=103687
(10) Russia, Turkey agree borders of demilitarized zone in Idlib, Syria – Lavrov, 21 Sep, 2018 https://www.rt.com/newsline/439029-russia-turkey-lavrov-idlib/; EPA-EFE / Sergei Ilnitsky: Lavrov says Russia-Turkey deal on Idlib aimed at eradicating terrorism, 9/21/2018, https://breakingthenews.net/lavrov-says-russia-turkey-deal-on-idlib-aimed-at-eradicating-terrorism/news/details/44949631
(11) Bogdanov: Agreement on Idleb is temporary measure, all Syrian territory must be liberated from terrorism, 28 September، 2018 https://www.sana.sy/en/?p=147799; Reuters: Russia: Moves for demilitarization of Syria’s Idlib underway, 28 September 2018 https://english.alarabiya.net/en/News/middle-east/2018/09/28/Russia-Preparations-for-demilitarization-of-Syria-s-Idlib-are-underway-.html
(12) See on this e.g. Ömer Özkizilcik: The armed Syrian opposition reacts to Idlib 'demilitarised zones', 2 October, 2018 https://www.alaraby.co.uk/english/indepth/2018/10/2/the-armed-syrian-opposition-reacts-to-idlib-demilitarised-zones
(13) Middle East Monitor: Syrian Extremist Militias Reject Turkey-Russia Agreement, Will Attack Syrian Troops, 09/22/2018, https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/20180921-syrian-armed-factions-reject-turkey-russia-idlib-deal/, https://www.juancole.com/2018/09/extremist-militias-agreement.html
(14) Asharq Al-Awsat: Idlib: Assassinations Eliminate Opposers of Turkish-Russian Agreement, 25 September, 2018 https://aawsat.com/english/home/article/1406686/idlib-assassinations-eliminate-opposers-turkish-russian-agreement
(15) See e.g. https://twitter.com/Anonnymmous2/status/1046509776014839808; https://twitter.com/AlKhali72189230/status/1046439625592573952; https://mobile.twitter.com/jorgechav49/status/1046484385523007489; Split Within Hay’at Tahrir Al-Sham Over Idlib Deconfliction Agreement – Report, 28.09.2018 https://southfront.org/split-within-hayat-tahrir-al-sham-over-idlib-deconfliction-agreement/
(17) Bassem Mroue: Syrian rebel group won’t abandon front lines in province, 2018-10-01, AP, https://www.apnews.com/76393c28e1e44401b5a3e27a28ea4cb4
(18) See e.g. Syria rebels deny withdrawing arms from north under deal, 30.09.2018, https://www.afp.com/en/news/15/syria-rebels-deny-withdrawing-arms-north-under-deal-doc-19m31r3; https://twitter.com/badly_xeroxed/status/1046452573237137408
(20) See our numerous pamphlets, articles and statements which 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/. In particular we refer to 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/; of Michael Pröbsting: World Perspectives 2018: A World Pregnant with Wars and Popular Uprisings, February 2018, Chapter V, https://www.thecommunists.net/theory/worldperspectives-2018/chapter-v/
(21) For our analysis of the most recent developments in Idlib and the grave dangers for the Syrian Revolution caused by the treacherous Sochi Deal we refer to several articles of Michael Pröbsting published in the past weeks: Syria/Idlib: Down with the Sochi Surrender Deal! 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! 18.09.2018 (6.30 UTC Time), https://www.thecommunists.net/worldwide/africa-and-middle-east/sochi-deal-on-idlib-is-surrender/; Syria/Idlib: News Confirm that the Sochi Deal Means Surrender! An additional Analysis: What are the Assadist and Russian Plans behind the Sochi Deal? What has been the Reaction until now of the Rebel Leaders to the Sochi Deal? 18.09.2018 (19.30 UTC Time), https://www.thecommunists.net/worldwide/africa-and-middle-east/syria-idlib-news-confirm-that-the-sochi-deal-means-surrender/; Syria: Mass Rallies in Idlib against the Regime and Russia. Support the Undaunted Revolutionary People resisting against the Final Onslaught of Assad and imperialist Russia against the last Citadel of the Syrian Revolution! 15.09.2018, https://www.thecommunists.net/worldwide/africa-and-middle-east/mass-rallies-in-idlib-against-the-regime-and-russia/; 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/; 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/.
Map: Idlib with the 20 km-deep Demilitarization Zone as agreed between Russia and Turkey