Russia, Iran, and Turkey have agreed to a memorandum establishing four safe zones across the north, central, and southern parts of Syria, constituting a major advancement in the nation’s ongoing civil war. Russia released the memorandum Thursday at peace talks in Astana, Kazakhstan. Russia and Iran are allied with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, while Turkey is allied with some of the rebel groups fighting against Assad. By signing a memorandum, the three nations aim to establish a cease-fire that would mitigate conflict between Assad’s government forces and insurgent groups.
In theory, safe zones offer refuge and humanitarian aid to displaced persons fleeing violence, though it is uncertain how the three nations expect to monitor the newly established zones. A safe-zone strategy has garnered criticism in the past for serving as a band-aid solution to the refugee crisis while failing to address the root of the Syrian conflict. Historically, safe zones have even become targets for increased violence. With Russia and the Assad government capable of intervening militarily at any given moment, many fear a “safe zone” designation carries little weight. Since the start of the Syrian conflict in May 2011, the Assad government has violated numerous cease-fire agreements.