Turkey has hit back at Moscow that blamed Ankara for failing to honor a 2018 buffer zone deal, insisting that the Turkish government has so far carried out its responsibilities in Syria’s volatile province of Idlib, which militant groups have been using as a launch pad for attacks against Syrian forces and civilians.
Back in September 2018, Russian President Vladimir Putin and his Turkish counterpart Recep Tayyip Erdogan reached an Iran-brokered deal, known as the Sochi agreement, to set up a de-militarization zone in Idlib, the last militant bastion in a nine-year war.
According to the agreement, Takfiri terrorist outfits, or those which have been branded by Ankara as “radical,” were required to withdraw from the buffer zone.
However, Hayat Tahrir al-Sham Takfiri terrorists and other militants have been launching attacks on army and civilian targets from the buffer zone, where Turkish observation posts have been established to monitor the enforcement of the ceasefire there.
The increasing attacks prompted Damascus last August to begin liberating areas from the grip of terrorists in the province. Syria also started its full-scale offensive in December to flush all militant groups out of Idlib.
On February 12, the Russian Defense Ministry accused Ankara of failing to honor the Sochi agreement amid an escalation of militant-incited violence.
“The real reason for the crisis in the Idlib de-escalation zone unfortunately is the non-fulfillment by our Turkish colleagues of their undertakings to separate moderate opposition militants from terrorists,” the ministry said.
Under the bilateral agreements between Moscow and Ankara, Turkey was tasked to separate the so-called moderate opposition militants from the internationally recognized terrorists. Turkey’s failure to do so is believed to be one of the main reasons behind the ongoing escalation in Idlib.
Ankara supports a number of anti-Damascus militant groups in Idlib.
Moscow’s reaction was apparently made in response to Erdogan, who had accused the Russian side a few hours earlier of “constantly attacking the civilian people, carrying out massacres, spilling blood.”
Russia, a key ally to Syria in crushing Takfiri terrorist groups in the Arab country, strongly rejected Erdogan’s allegations and blasted them as not corresponding “with reality.”
On Saturday, Turkey hit back at Russia’s Defense Ministry statement, claiming that Ankara had fulfilled its responsibilities under the Sochi agreement.
“Observation posts were set up” and the Syrian government “had to stay outside of this area. Russia and Iran were to ensure” the Syrian army troops “stayed outside, Turkey had responsibilities too, Turkey fulfilled these,” said Turkish Vice President Fuat Oktay in an