« To then calm the people of Idlib, this agreement must be built by the world powers working together to find a lasting political solution that protects the civilian population, » Bramwell said. « It is also important that humanitarian organizations can reach those who remain in need throughout Idlib, including in all demilitarized zones. An offensive on Idlib would also threaten the rest of Russia`s political project in Syria. Although Turkey has done too much to fight terrorism in the Idlib area, it has made a significant contribution to Russia`s other non-Idlib efforts in Syria. [fn] German-Russian bilateral relations also include many critical non-Syrian issues, as well as Turkey`s relations with Astah`s other guarantor, Iran. For more information on the multidimensional bilateral relations between Russia and Turkey, see crisis group report No. 250, Russia and Turkey in the Black Sea and South Caucasus, June 28, 2018. In July, Turkey rhetorically supported Russia`s initiative to return refugees. Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation, « Final Declaration of Iran, Russia and Turkey on the International Meeting on Syria, Sochi, 30-31 July 2018, » 31 July 2018. Turkish support – and Turkey`s encouragement of the participation of the Syrian opposition – is very important for the Russian conference on national dialogue in Sochi and the resulting constitutional commission. This committee will be essential in linking Russia`s process to the UN-backed Geneva process and redirecting the Geneva talks from the political transition to constitutional reform, in line with the Russian agenda. The agreement announced by Presidents Erdogan and Putin was possible because it theoretically corresponds to the interests of the various protagonists. By summarizing a Syrian regime and the Russian attack on Idlib, it prevents the massive influx of refugees (including, inevitably, a number of jihadists) to Turkey, which Ankara feared.
It also has the potential to stop – or limit – cross-border attacks by militant groups that Russia says pose a destabilizing threat to de-escalation. Moreover, although Damascus was not present at the negotiating table in Sochi, if the memorandum is fully implemented and the main Idlib highways are secured, Damascus offers benefits to the Syrian regime by further reintegrating Syria economically, with Damascus positioning itself for post-war stabilization and reconstruction. For the regime, a battle for Idlib, backed by Russian air power, would probably be winnable. But it wouldn`t be clean or easy. It would necessarily lead to violence and death on a large scale, in an area with a population several times larger than that of rebel-held East Aleppo and Eastern Ghouta, and unlike these enclaves, there is no clear way out: there is no other Idlib to evacuate. [fn] The population of east Aleppo and eastern Ghouta, in disinherited, seems to have been systematically overestimated before its fall. But even if the population of the northwest is inflated in the same way and half as large as the estimated three million, this figure would still be about ten times higher than East Aleppo (about 157,000) and more than five times higher than in Ghouta (about 278,000).