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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.

Go deeper

5 hours ago - World

Top general: U.S. losing time to deter China

Stanley McChrystal. Photo: Alex Wong/Getty Images

Stanley McChrystal, a top retired general and Biden adviser, tells Axios that "China's military capacity has risen much faster than people appreciate," and the U.S. is running out of time to counterbalance that in Asia and prevent a scenario such as it seizing Taiwan.

Why it matters: McChrystal, the former commander of U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan, recently briefed the president-elect as part of his cabinet of diplomatic and national security advisers. President-elect Joe Biden is considering which Trump- or Obama-era approaches to keep or discard, and what new strategies to pursue.

Progressives shift focus from Biden's Cabinet to his policy agenda

Joe Biden giving remarks in Wilmington, Del., last month. Photo: Roberto Schmidt/AFP via Getty Images

Some progressives tell Axios they believe the window for influencing President-elect Joe Biden’s Cabinet selections has closed, and they’re shifting focus to policy — hoping to shape Biden's agenda even before he’s sworn in.

Why it matters: The left wing of the party often draws attention for its protests, petitions and tweets, but this deliberate move reflects a determination to move beyond some fights they won't win to engage with Biden strategically, and over the long term.

Dave Lawler, author of World
7 hours ago - World

Venezuela's predictable elections herald an uncertain future

The watchful eyes of Hugo Chávez on an election poster in Caracas. Photo: Cristian Hernandez/AFP via Getty

Venezuelans will go to the polls on Sunday, Nicolás Maduro will complete his takeover of the last opposition-held body, and much of the world will refuse to recognize the results.

The big picture: The U.S. and dozens of other countries have backed an opposition boycott of the National Assembly elections on the grounds that — given Maduro's tactics (like tying jobs and welfare benefits to voting), track record, and control of the National Electoral Council — they will be neither free nor fair.