Ankara, Moscow to hold more talks to reduce Syria tensions
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan speaks to the media prior to departure for Baku, Azerbaijan, at the airport, in Ankara, Turkey, on Feb. 25, 2020.(Presidential Press Service via AP, Pool)
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan on Feb. 25 announced that a Russian delegation would arrive the following day to resume talks aimed at easing tensions in northwestern Syria. He also said no consensus was reached for a four-way meeting next month between the leaders of France, German, Russia and Turkey.
At a news conference in capital Ankara before departing on a trip to Azerbaijan, Erdoğan said that a Russian delegation was set to come to Turkey on Feb. 26 to discuss the Idlib situation. Turkish officials had reported small progress in two previous rounds of Turkey-Russia meetings but said the results were not satisfactory.
"There is no full agreement yet between [French President Emmanuel] Macron...[German Chancellor Angela] Merkel, and Putin," he said. Macron and Merkel have both urged Putin to end the conflict, concerned about the humanitarian situation.
On Feb. 22, Erdoğan said that Turkey had set out a "road map" for Syria after calls with the three leaders, while the Kremlin has said it was discussing the possibility of holding a four-way summit.
The president also said that he and his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin may still come to Turkey next week for a bilateral meeting. The Kremlin said on Feb. 25 that it was working to organize a summit with Turkey and Iran for Idlib, but was not organizing a separate mooted four-way summit that would gather France, Germany, Turkey, and Russia.
“There is a process underway between Turkey and Russia regarding Idlib and Libya. We need to quickly resolve the Idlib issue. Russia provides the regime with the highest level of support, including air support. We have determined it despite their denial. With our 911-kilometer limit increasing here, we will not be in such a struggle, will they?” he asked.
"Even if they deny it, we have evidence. We are forced to be in this fight.''
Russian foreign minister on Feb. 24 also said that Russia and Turkey are preparing talks on how to de-escalate fighting in Idlib.
"Now we are preparing another series of consultations, which, we hope, will lead us to an agreement on how to ensure that this is really a de-escalation zone and that the terrorists do not rule there," Sergey Lavrov told reporters in Moscow.
“I hope that the ongoing contacts between our military and the Turkish military, with the participation of diplomats and security services, will end positively, and we will be able to make sure that terrorists do not take over this part of Syria, as, in fact, they should not take over anywhere else," he said.
Tensions have been running high amid a Syrian regime forces offensive in Idlib and parts of Aleppo province, the last remaining rebel-held territories in Syria.
The regime's forces have captured dozens of towns and villages in the Russian-backed offensive since December. More than 900,000 people have been displaced, many of them now crowding an area close to the border with Turkey.
The Syrian regime's offensive has also shattered a cease-fire agreement that Turkey and Russia reached in 2018, despite supporting rival sides in the Syrian conflict.
Ankara has sent thousands of troops and equipment to Idlib to head off the campaign driven by Russian air raids and at least 16 members of the Turkish forces have been killed. Turkey already hosts 3.7 million Syrian refugees, says it cannot handle another wave and has closed its borders.
Erdoğan on Feb. 5 said Syrian regime forces must withdraw from the area that was designated as a de-escalation zone in Idlib until the end of February, signaling a new military operation if the threat against Turkey's military posts in the area continues.
Erdoğan: Turkey has ‘two martyrs’ in Libya
Erdoğan also said that Turkey has “two martyrs” in Libya, a country wrecked by conflict between its U.N.-recognized government and the forces of strongman Khalifa Haftar.
“We have two martyrs, belonging us, there in Libya,” Erdoğan told reporters before leaving for Azerbaijan on an official visit.
He was answering a question regarding criticism from opposition parties after he said at the weekend “we have a couple of martyrs” in Libya, without providing a precise number.
Erdoğan said Russia deployed Wagner mercenaries with 2,500 fighters and its financial support is provided by the United Arab Emirates (UAE).
Turkey supports the U.N.-recognized Government of National Accord (GNA), based in Tripoli, and sent dozens of military training personnel after the two countries signed deals last year.
The GNA has been under sustained attack for months from Haftar, a military commander with an eastern powerbase whose principal backers include Russia.