Russia and Turkey have agreed to create a “demilitarized zone” in Syria’s Idlib region to separate Syrian government forces from rebel fighters, Russian President Vladimir Putin announced Monday after a lengthy meeting in Sochi with his Turkish counterpart Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
The planned zone would be 15- to 20 kilometers deep, said Putin, and patrolled by Turkish and Russian soldiers. Putin said the zone is to be established by October 15.
Idlib is one of the last remaining areas resistant to the forces of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. About half the population of 3 million are already displaced from other areas, and international observers have voiced concerns that a government offensive could lead to further displacement and a massive loss of civilian life.
Although Russia is a close ally of Assad’s government and has expressed that his government has the right to recapture the region, Turkey has increasingly voiced concerns about a potential humanitarian disaster and sent troops to the area to ward off an assault.
Earlier this month, Erdogan met with Putin, along with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, at a trilateral summit in Tehran. The talks appeared to end in deadlock over efforts to avert conflict in Idlib. Tehran also backs Damascus in Syria’s seven-year-old civil war.