On December 8, Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov told reporters that Russia and the US have no plans to cooperate in Syria’s Idlib governorate, according to the Russian state-run news agency TASS .
“There are no plans with the United States on this specific region of Syria [Idlib governorate]. I believe that’s totally counterproductive,” Lavrov said during the news conference that followed the OSCE Ministerial Council meeting in Vienna.
However, the foreign minister stressed that Russia, Iran, Turkey and Syria are now working to established a de-escalation zone in Idlib governorate, although that the situation there is “complex”.
“The situation in Idlib continues to be complex, and we are working, above all, with our Turkish, Iranian and Syrian counterparts to launch the de-escalation zone in that part of the Syrian Arab Republic as effectively as possible,” Lavrov said.
Russia, Iran and Turkey agreed to establish a de-escalation zone in Idlib governorate during Astana talks on September 13. Since then both the Russian and Turkish Army established several observation posts in the northern and southern Idlib countryside.
However, the al-Qaeda-affiliated Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham (HTS) and many groups of the Free Syrian Army (FSA) in northern Syria including some backed by the US didn’t respect the agreement. Dozens of attacks led mainly by HTS had been conducted from Idlib governorate against the Syrian Arab Army (SAA) in Hama, Aleppo and Lattakia governorates since then.
On the other side the US does not appear to be too interested in countering the growing influence of radical Islamic groups like HTS in northern Syria. After conducting dozens of airstrikes against these groups between 2014 and 2016, the US-led coalition conducted very few airstrikes against al-Qaeda in northern Syria in 2017.
The last verified US-led coalition airstrike in northern Syria targeted a mosque in the village of al-Jinah in the western Aleppo countryside on March 16, 2017. While the US-led coalition claimed that the airstrike targeted a meeting of al-Qaeda leaders, Syrian oppositions sources reported that over 45 civilians were killed in the airstrike.
Many Syrian pro-government activists believe that the US-led coalition will resume its limited aerial operations against al-Qaeda-affiliated groups in northern Syria after ISIS defeat, as a way to justify the deployment of the US troops in Syria.