Russia hopes that Turkey can stabilize the situation in Syria's Idlib province where Moscow believes there is a high threat of attacks by militants, a senior Russian diplomat said Monday.
The head of the Russian delegation at the Astana talks on the Syria crisis, Alexander Lavrentyev said stressed that establishment of a so-called de-escalation zone in Idlib was a "very important decision."
"There is a pretty high level of tension there and there is still a threat of offensives by radical groups deployed there," Lavrentyev said.
He added that Russia hopes Turkey would "in the end fulfill their part of the obligations concerning the Idlib de-escalation zone and will stabilize the situation there."
Lavrentyev was speaking before a fresh round of Astana talks, which promote gradual cease-fires and de-escalation zones. At the last set of talks in September, three guarantor powers – Turkey, Russia and Iran – agreed to allocate forces to patrol the zone covering opposition-held Idlib province and neighboring regions.
Earlier this month, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan announced that Turkey was conducting a "serious operation" with the Free Syrian Army (FSA) as part of the de-escalation deal.
Turkey's military began setting up observation posts in Idlib in October under a deal with Russia and Iran to reduce clashes between the opposition groups and the regime by establishing de-escalation zones. But the deployment was also seen as partly aimed at containing the People's Protection Units (YPG) militia, which is the armed wing of the PKK's Syrian offshoot the Democratic Union Party (PYD).
The operation in Idlib is the second time in over a year that the Turkish military has crossed into Syria. The first, Operation Euphrates Shield, was launched on Aug. 24, 2016, in collaboration with the FSA. It liberated several Daesh strongholds, including Jarablous, Dabiq, al-Rai and al-Bab.
On May 4, the guarantor countries signed a deal in the Kazakh capital Astana to establish de-escalation zones in Syria.
The May 4 de-escalation zone agreement envisages the halt of hostilities between Assad regime forces and moderate opposition groups within the zones as well as the creation of conditions for humanitarian access, medical assistance, the return of displaced civilians to their homes and the restoration of damaged infrastructure.
The guarantor states previously agreed to take all measures necessary to continue fighting Daesh, al-Nusra and other terrorist groups both within and beyond the de-escalation zones.
Syria's conflict evolved from a bloody crackdown on protests in 2011 to a devastating war that has drawn in world powers, including Russia and a U.S.-led international coalition. Since then, more than 250,000 people have been killed and in excess of 10 million displaced, according to the U.N.
The diplomatic push brings together the Assad regime and representatives of the opposition, including some key armed groups who had previously steered clear of other negotiations.
Moscow has been spearheading the talks in a bid to pacify Syria after its game-changing intervention on the side of the regime.