The Russian Defence Ministry has held a pres briefing detailing the nature and implementation of the safe-zones in Syria which are currently operational.
The most important confirmed fact is that each safe zone will be heavily patrolled by the military forces which are party to the Astana agreement. This includes Russia, Iran and Turkey. Others, including Syrian forces will also be able to participate as discussions continue to help organise and police the safe zones.
The areas will have multiple checkpoints and so-called security lanes to ensure that these zones became areas where terrorists who refuse to disarm can be forcibly disarmed and/or brought to justice. Humanitarian assistance will also be delivered via these ‘security lanes’.
A statement from Colonel General Sergey Rudskoy on the matter reads,
“Special attention is paid to control implementation of the ceasefire regime.
In order to prevent incidents and combat actions between the opposing sides along the de-escalation zone borders, security lanes are established. These lanes include posts for observation of reconciliation regime and checkpoints for controlling movement of civilians without weapons, delivery of humanitarian aid, and support of economical activity.
Operation of the checkpoints and observation posts as well as control over security zones will be provided by personnel from Russia, Iran, and Turkey. Forces from other countries can be involved under agreement of state-guarantors.
Command staff of the Russian grouping under the leadership of the General Staff of the Russian Armed Forces is determining the number of necessary checkpoints and observation posts as well as forces supporting their operation.
Within two weeks, representatives of state-guarantors will form a Joint working group. The group will present borders of the de-escalation zones and safety lanes as well as maps for separating formations of armed opposition from terrorist groupings by July 4, 2017.
It is to be stressed that signing of the Memorandum on creation of the de-escalation zones in the Syrian Arab Republic does not stop fighting against terrorists of the ISIS and Jabhat al-Nusra in Syria.
State-guarantors undertake to continue fighting against formations of these and other terrorist organizations in the de-escalation zones as well as provide assistance to the government troops and armed opposition in fighting insurgents in other areas of Syria.
After establishing of the de-escalation zones, the government troops will be sent to continue offensive on the ISIS formations in the central and eastern parts of Syria as well as to liberate areas located along the River Euphrates.
The Russian Aerospace Forces will support these actions”.
Lieutenant General Alexander Fomin also confirmed that the agreement carries the full backing of not only Russia, Iran and Turkey but also of the Syrian government and the government of the United States.
Fomin confirmed that Russia is in close contact with the United States on the issue. Russia has also spoken with Israel about the safe zones. It is widely believed that Russia has essentially warned Israel not to interfere with the smooth operation of the safe-zones in spite of the fact that Iran, one of Israel’s principle boogie men will be patrolling some of them.
The biggest question mark is Turkey. Turkey has time and again proved itself to be an unreliable partner. For the first time since the conflict in Syria started in 2011, Turkey is now formally engaged in a policing and peace process that is supported by the Syrian government.
It remains to be seen whether Erodgan will keep his word, but it is worth remembering that even if Turkey is less than committed to the process, things have still moved in the right direction. The worse that could happen is that Turkey’s duplicitous position remains the same.
If this is the case though, Turkey could run the risk of being shut out of the Astana process.
With Turkish-US relations at an all time low, this would effectively shut Turkey out of any internationally recognised efforts in Syria. It would mean Turkey would be acting even more unilaterally than it had previously done.