Article In Mouthpiece Of Hay'at Tahrir Al-Sham (HTS)-Linked Salvation Government Following Putin-Erdoğan Summit: Russian Military Activity In Idlib Area Will Be Fiercely Opposed

October 12, 2021

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An article in the October 8, 2021 issue of Nabd Al-Muharrar ("Pulse of the Liberated Areas"), the weekly of the HTS-linked Syrian Salvation Government, addresses the implications of the September 29, 2021 summit in Sochi between Russian President Vladimir Putin  and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. Among the topics discussed at this summit was the escalation of hostilities in Syria's Idlib region between forces of the Syrian regime and its allies on the one hand, and the armed rebels and their allies on the other, which has included an airstrike by the  Russian air force, as well as an airstrike of the Turkish air force.

Titled "Spring Shield[1] and the Sochi Understandings," the article, by Diyab Abu Talal, proclaims it unlikely that Turkey has made any concessions on the Syria issue, especially regarding the presence of its forces in the Jabal Al-Zawiyah area.[2]   Abu Talal stresses that even if such concessions have been made, the rebel factions will not heed Turkey's decisions and continue defending the area under their control, because for them this is a life-and-death struggle  – and Moscow understands this.

The following is a translation of the article:[3]

"Between the Russian treachery and the Turkish stubbornness, the Sochi talks [between Putin and Erdoğan] are taking place, aimed at deciding [the fate] of the de-escalation zone in northwestern Syria, the only one of the four that still remains.[4] Emerging from the summit after two hours and 45 minutes, the presidents of Russia and Turkey stressed that it had been positive, in contrast to the statements they made before it.

"Has the Russian occupier received what it wants, enabling it to return the southern part of the M4, [near] Jabal Al-Zawiyah, to the control of the regime militias? Or will Ankara leave it as a shield for the Syrian revolution, as [implied by] the name of the operation it conducted in the region – [Operation] Spring Shield? Some believe that Turkey's economic situation and its deteriorating relations with the U.S. will cause it to reexamine its policy and withdraw from Jabal Al-Zawiyah, but this assumption is unlikely, for many reasons:

 - If Turkey withdraws from the region and allows the militias of [Syrian President Bashar] Al-Assad to control it, this will place the regime forces very close to Turkey's southern border. This may prompt the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) to approach Damascus and make a deal with it, knowing that the U.S. is bound to withdraw [from Syria] and leave them to their unknown fate. Such a development will be a threat to Turkey's national security, [like the threat] that led it to intervene in northern Syria [to begin with].

- The Russian occupiers will not jeopardize their relations with Turkey over Jabal Al-Zawiyah. [The two countries] have economic and political ties [involving interests] far more important, including the three nuclear reactors Russia means to construct in Turkey, as well as the TurkStream gas pipeline, which will carry Russian gas to  Europe and Turkey. And let us not forget Russia's efforts to drive a wedge between NATO [members] using Turkey.

-  Moscow is well aware that the campaign in this rocky area will be difficult and that the owners of the land will defend it fiercely, because for them this is a life-or-death issue. [For them] this is not a matter of implementing the decisions of their Turkish patron, as Russia believes. Any new action [by Russia and its allies] in the liberated areas may cause the [rebel] military factions to unite and operate under a joint operations room, which is what the Russian occupier fears."



[1] Operation Spring Shield was launched by Turkey in February 2020 after the Russian Air Force attacked a Turkish convoy in the Idlib area. Its goal was to prevent the advance of the Syrian government forces in the region.

[2] Jabal Al-Zawiyah overlooks the M4 highway, connecting Aleppo to the regime-controlled Syrian coast, so control of it is crucial to controlling that road. In March 2020 Russia and Turkey agreed to conduct joint patrols in the area, so as to create a safe corridor for the forces of the Syrian regime, but in the summer of that year Russia pulled out of the patrols after its forces came under attack.

[3] Telegram, October 8, 2021.

[4] The Astana agreement designated four de-escalation zones in Syria: Daraa in the south, the Eastern Ghouta near Damascus, areas north of Homs, and Idlib., May 6, 2017. This agreement was arrived at after deep divisions broke out between Russia and Turkey at a September 7, 2018 summit in Tehran attended also by the presidents of Russia, Turkey, and Iran. At the summit, Russian President Vladimir Putin demanded action to eliminate the rebel stronghold in Idlib but Turkey vehemently opposed this. The MOU between Russia and Turkey on continuing the de-escalation zone in Idlib, signed a week later at Sochi, constituted a temporary Russian and Iranian capitulation to Turkey's wishes.

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