Updated Mar 5, 2020 - World

Turkey and Russia agree to ceasefire in Idlib

Erdogan and Putin

Photo: Mikhail Svetlov/Getty Images

Russian President Vladimir Putin and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan announced in a press conference Thursday that the two countries had agreed to a ceasefire in the northwestern Syrian region of Idlib.

Why it matters: A brutal offensive by Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad and his Russian patrons has forced more than 1 million civilians to flee toward the Turkish border, infuriating Erdogan and bringing Turkey to the brink of direct military conflict with Russia. The ceasefire, which is set to go into effect at midnight, is aimed at cooling geopolitical tensions and halting what is already a massive humanitarian crisis.

The big picture: Syria's campaign to retake the final rebel strongholds in Idlib — backed by Russian strikes on schools, hospitals and homes — has exacerbated the Syrian refugee crisis to one of its worst points in the nine-year civil war.

  • Forced to deal with the wave of refugees heading to the Turkish border, Erdogan announced last Saturday that he would open Turkey's borders with Europe — claiming that his country cannot sustain more than the 3.6 million Syrian refugees it already hosts.
  • Greece has taken a hard line as refugees have massed at its border with Turkey, with the government deploying the army and announcing that it would not accept asylum applications for at least a month.
  • The European Union — still grappling with the ramifications of the 2015 migrant crisis — has said it will support Greece's decision.

Between the lines: The EU, long a champion of tolerance and promoter of asylum laws, is facing a difficult balancing act as it seeks to secure its borders while avoiding the appearance of hypocrisy.

  • It must attempt to do so while also assuaging the concerns of Turkey, which has fostered deeper ties with Russia in recent years.
  • Putin, meanwhile, must attempt to keep his support for Assad from pushing Turkey fully back into the NATO fold.
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