Turkey, Russia try to avoid crisis

Turkey, Russia try to avoid crisis

Turkey, Russia try to avoid crisis

AFP photo

Turkey and Russia have maintained calm in their relations after a Russian air strike killed three Turkish soldiers on Feb. 9 near the town of al-Bab in northern Syria, in an apparent move to prevent tension again after the downing of a Russian jet by the Turkish military in 2015. 

While Russia claimed the air strikes were launched based on coordinates provided to Russia by the Turkish military, the Turkish military strongly denied Moscow’s claim. 

“Unfortunately, our military, while carrying out strikes on terrorists, were guided by coordinates given to them by our Turkish partners. Turkish servicemen should not have been present at those coordinates,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said in a conference call with reporters on Feb. 10.

Peskov said President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan was scheduled to visit Russia next month, signaling that the recent rapprochement between the two countries had not been damaged. 

Russia and Turkey will hold a high-level cooperation council meeting in March. 

The Turkish military has been regularly and mutually sharing information with its Russian counterparts in regards to the Euphrates Shield Operation for a period of approximately one month in line with an agreement between the two countries signed on Jan. 12 with the aim of preventing troops from harming each other, said a written statement by the Turkish Armed Forces (TSK). 

The Turkish military elements that were hit by Russian warplane were in the same location for approximately 10 days, said the TSK statement.

“Finally, on  Feb. 8, after a rocket was fired from the region controlled by the Russian Federation at the point where friendly elements were located, the coordinates of the point where our elements were located was most recently transmitted again on the same day at 23.11 to the responsible personnel at the Hmeimim  Operation Center,” said the TSK. 

At the same time, the Russian Armed Forces Attaché in Ankara was invited to the headquarters of the General Staff, and once again the coordinates were given to him, said the Turkish army.

Deputy Prime Minister Numan Kurtulmuş said on Feb. 10 that the attack conducted by Russia was completely the result of “faulty coordination” between the two countries’ armies. “We are trying to clarify the incident. Initial findings show incorrect coordination was carried out, unfortunately. It was an unintentional incident,” he said, stressing the need for closer coordination with Russia to avoid such incidents from occurring again. 

Speaking with reporters in the inner Aegean province of Afyonkarahisar, Kurtulmuş said it was significant that Russian President Vladimir Putin had expressed his condolences to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. 

Prime Minister Binali Yıldırım said they ensured necessary coordination would be established with Russia in order to avoid similar incidents from happening in the future. Yıldırım confirmed Erdoğan and Putin expressed their sorrow over the attack in a phone conversation on Feb. 9.

The Turkish military on Feb. 9 said the “friendly fire” incident occurred during an operation against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), adding that they risked getting involved in unintended clashes amid numerous “outside powers” in a complex war.

The Russian jets that hit a building housing the Turkish Armed Forces had departed from the Hmeimim Air Base in Syria and returned to the base after the attack, a military source, speaking on condition of anonymity told daily Hürriyet. 

The two countries are expected to establish new coordination units on the field in Syria in order to improve coordination between the two.

Turkey and Free Syrian Army (FSA) fighters have carved out a de facto buffer zone in northern Syria in territory captured from ISIL since August as part of the Euphrates Shield Operation. They have been battling to capture al-Bab since December, but escalated their attack this week, seizing the town’s outskirts.

The Syrian army, meanwhile, mounted its own, rapid advance toward the city in the last few weeks, advancing to within a few kilometers of its southern outskirts. 

At least 23 ISIL militants were “neutralized” in northern Syria in the last 24 hours as part of the operation, according to a Turkish General Staff statement released early on Feb. 10. 

Turkish authorities often use the word “neutralized” in their statements to imply the terrorist in question was either killed or captured.

Some 154 ISIL targets, including the group’s shelters, headquarters, defense positions and vehicles, had been hit by FSA fighters with the support of the Turkish Land Forces, the statement said.

Yıldırım last week said that clashes with the Syrian forces had been avoided thanks to international, Turkish and Russian coordination.