The presidents of Russia, Iran and Turkey have said in a joint statement that a full US withdrawal from Syria will facilitate stability and security in the country.
Vladimir Putin, Recep Erdogan and Hassan Rouhani met in Sochi on 14 February to discuss the situation in Syria as a whole, as well as the situation in the Idlib province specifically, which remains the final stronghold for terrorists in the country.
In a press conference at the end of the meeting, Putin observed that “there are still no major changes in the territory”. Concerning the US withdrawal, he said, “We presume that it is still happening”.
The Russian leader remarked that US President Donald Trump is “quite actively working to implement his pre-election promises, which happens extremely rarely in practice in the US political life”.
Trump announced his intention to pull the US forces out of Syria on 19 December 2018.
Erdogan noted that the US’s timeline for the withdrawal is not yet clear: “We spoke about the fact that it could take place in April or May. We will follow the developments closely.”
With respect to the situation in Idlib, the three presidents agreed to “act towards the full implementation of the agreements on the Idlib de-escalation zone in north-western Syria”. An agreement was reached in September last year between Putin and Erdogan, and envisaged the creation of a de-escalation zone on Idlib’s perimeter, with border control points. This agreement would make it possible to avoid a major ground forces operation by the forces loyal to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. However, recently control of Idlib has passed from the moderate opposition groups supported by Turkey to the terrorist group Hayat Tahrir al-Sham.
Putin claimed to have coordinated additional conflict resolution measures with his colleagues. “The creation of the Idlib zone is a temporary measure. Aggressive forays by the militants must not remain unpunished,” he told reporters.
“These are steps aimed to purge Idlib of the terrorist groups that currently control a significant part of this territory,” explained Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov, clarifying that this does not mean that a military operation is being planned.
During the summit, the three countries also reached an agreement to continue the work of experts and government representatives in the Astana format. The 12th round of consultation in the capital of Kazakhstan is scheduled to take place in April.