Putin says Russia, Syria not planning assault on Idlib for now

Russian President Vladimir Putin said on Saturday launching a full-scale assault on militants in Syria’s Idlib province with Syrian forces, despite not being ruled out, was unpractical for now, Reuters reported.

Putin’s statement follows a Moscow-Ankara brokered deal in September to create a demilitarised zone in the northwest Idlib region that would be free of all heavy weapons and jihadist fighters.

Accordingly, Turkey agreed to create a demilitarised buffer zone and remove extremist fighters such as those belonging to al-Qaeda-linked Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham (HTS) to prevent attacks on Syrian government forces and infrastructure.

The deal helped avert a government assault on the region, which remains the lost stronghold of Syrian President Bashar Assad.

Russia has voiced its concerns about escalating violence in the region, stressing that militants who used to belong to the Nusra Front group are in control of large swaths of territory.

Putin said that Moscow and Damascus would continue what he called the fight against terrorism and that any militants who tried to break out of Idlib, noting however that the presence of civilians in parts of Idlib where militants were also active meant the time was not yet ripe for full-scale military operations.

“I don’t rule it (a full-scale assault) out, but right now we and our Syrian friends consider that to be inadvisable given this humanitarian element,” the Russian president told reporters in Beijing.

Staunch Assad supporter Moscow is keen to help the Syrian president retake territory, including eventually Idlib province, however, Ankara has argued against a Russian-backed offensive in a region that borders his own country.

Turkey remains concerned about potential refugee flows from Idlib in the event of a military operation, and wants to retain its influence there, Reuters said.

Turkey is already home to over 3.5 million refugees from neighbouring Syria.

Syria's United Nations permanent representative Bashar Jaafari in a press conference following the meeting in Nursultan [Astana], said "today Turkey probably is invader of about six thousand kilometers, perhaps more. In other words, Turkey invaded four times the bigger land than Israel's invasion of Golan Heights."