Russia and Turkey agreed Thursday on a ceasefire in the de-escalation zone in Syria's northwestern province of Idlib, a development that could ease escalating conflicts and facilitate a peace process in the war-torn country.
The agreement was reached after a six-hour meeting between Russian President Vladimir Putin and his Turkish counterpart Recep Tayyip Erdogan in the Kremlin.
The ceasefire becomes effective on Friday, according to the protocol read after the talks by Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov.
Russia and Turkey also agreed to create a safety corridor 6 km to the north and 6 km to the south from the strategic M4 highway, which connects Aleppo in northern Syria with Latakia in the northwest.
Concrete parameters of the functioning of the safety corridor will be agreed on between Russian and Turkish defense ministries within seven days, the protocol said.
Russia and Turkey will begin joint patrolling of the M4 highway on March 15, said the protocol signed by the two countries' defense ministers.
According to the protocol, Russia and Turkey confirmed their fidelity to maintenance of the sovereignty, independence, unity and territorial integrity of Syria.
They also confirmed their determination to fight against all manifestations of terrorism and to destroy all the terrorist groups, recognized as such by the United Nations Security Council.
The parties stressed that the Syrian conflict has no military solution and must be settled by a political process led and implemented by the Syrians themselves with an assistance of the United Nations in accordance with the Security Council Resolution 2254.
Russia and Turkey underlined the importance of further improvement of the humanitarian situation of the Syrians, provision of humanitarian assistance to all needy without advancing preliminary conditions and discrimination, as well as preventing forced transfer of people and contributing to safe and voluntary return of the refugees and internally displaced persons to places of their permanent residence in Syria, the protocol said.
According to a UN statement on the ceasefire, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres "hopes that this agreement will lead to an immediate and lasting cessation of hostilities that ensures the protection of civilians in northwest Syria, who have already endured enormous suffering."
On Oct. 22, 2019, Putin and Erdogan agreed in Sochi, Russia, on the pullout of the Kurdish fighters to 30 km south of Turkey's border and the launch of joint patrols between Turkish and Russian soldiers 10 km from the Turkish border in an agreed region. However, the "de-escalation" zone has been repeatedly violated.
For several years, Moscow and Ankara have been bickering over the Syrian issue despite their growing cooperation in such fields as energy, trade and tourism, before the killing of 34 Turkish soldiers in an airstrike in Idlib last week eventually brought things to the boil.
Turkey, which has concerns about its national security with a vast number of displaced Syrians flooding to its borders, has considerably beefed up its military presence in northern Syria in recent weeks, deploying over 9,000 troops.
Following the deaths of Turkish soldiers in Idlib, Ankara opened its borders with Europe to refugees. At least 135,000 refugees crossed to Greece, Turkish Minister of Interior Suleyman Soylu said on Wednesday.
Fighting has escalated in recent days in northwestern Syria, where Turkey has launched a major offensive against the advances of the Russia-backed Syrian forces in the last stronghold of the rebels.
"One should not forget that this all is happening on the territory of Syria, and Syria is a sovereign state," said Boris Dolgov, a senior researcher with the Center for Arab and Islamic Studies at the Institute of Oriental Studies of the Russian Academy of Sciences.
"Both Russia and Turkey have stated that they respect and support the territorial integrity and sovereignty of Syria," Dolgov said, adding that they should be taken into account by all parties involved.