Erdoğan to meet Putin to discuss Idlib
Erdoğan and Putin spoke over the phone on Feb. 28 to try to defuse tensions that rose significantly in northwestern Syria after 33 Turkish troops were killed in a Syrian regime airstrike.
Erdoğan also said on Feb. 29 that he had asked Russian President Vladimir Putin for Russia to step aside in Syria and leave Turkey to deal with Syrian regime forces alone.
Syrian regime's forces, backed by Russian air power, have waged a major assault to capture the northwest province of Idlib, the last remaining territory held by rebels backed by Turkey.
With diplomacy sponsored by Ankara and Moscow to ease tensions in tatters, Turkey has come closer than ever to confrontation with Russia on the battlefield.
Speaking in Istanbul, Erdoğan said he had told Putin in a phone call to stand aside and let Turkey "to do what is necessary" with the Syrian government alone.
He said Turkey does not intend to leave Syria right now.
"We did not go there because we were invited by [Syria's Bashar al-Assad]. We went there because we were invited by the people of Syria. We don't intend to leave before the people of Syria, 'okay, this is done," in his first comments after the deaths of Turkish troops in Idlib.
After the death of its soldiers in a Syrian government air strike on Feb. 27, Turkey said it would allow migrants it hosts to freely pass to Europe.
"What did we do yesterday... We opened the doors," Erdoğan said.
"We will not close those doors ...Why? Because the European Union should keep its promises."
Turkey signed a deal with the EU to stop refugees crossing from its borders after a 2015 migrant crisis.
The Turkish leader said 18,000 migrants have amassed on the Turkish borders with Europe since on Feb. 28, adding that the number could reach as many as 30,000 on Feb. 29.
Turkey, which is already home to around 3.6 million Syrian refugees, fears more people arriving in the country where there is growing popular discontent against their presence.
"We are not in a situation to handle a new wave of refugees" from Syria, Erdoğan said.
The killing of Turkish troops has increased tensions with Russia, which backs the Syrian regime's relentless offensive to take back the remaining chunks of the Idlib region.
Under a 2018 deal with Russia, NATO-member Turkey has 12 observation posts in Idlib - several of which have been encircled by regime forces.
Erdoğan has given Damascus until the end of February to pull back or face the consequences. The deadline is due to expire on Feb. 29 night (2100 GMT).
Referring to a phone call with Russian President Vladimir Putin on Feb. 28, Erdoğan said: "I asked Mr. Putin: 'what's your business there? If you establish a base, do so, but get out of our way and leave us face to face with the regime.'"
Erdoğan on Feb. 29 confirmed fresh Turkish strikes on regime positions since Feb. 28, including on what officials say was a chemical warfare depot.
"We would not want things to reach this point but as they force us to do this, they will pay a price," Erdoğan warned, referring to the regime forces.