Turkish, Russian leaders to meet for critical talks on Syria’s Idlib
President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and Russian President Vladimir Putin will hold face-to-face talks in Sochi on Sept. 29 to discuss the recent escalation in Syria’s Idlib province as the Russian and Syrian forces intensified military operations against the opposition groups.
Erdoğan will travel to Russia’s Black Sea resort town for a one-day trip, and the two presidents are expected to make a press statement following their talks. The latest in-person meeting between the two presidents took place in March 2020 in Moscow.
Statements from Moscow and Ankara highlight that Erdoğan and Putin will primarily discuss the recent escalation in Idlib, a province that shelters around 3.5 million people, including some radical armed groups.
There are reports of intensified aerial operations by the Russian and Syrian air forces against the targets in Idlib and recently in Syria’s Afrin province, claiming the lives of at least a dozen civilians. Russia says it is targeting terrorist groups in the enclave.
Turkey and Russia had agreed on a truce in March 2020 and launched a joint patrolling mission along the M4 highway linking Aleppo to Latakia. Despite the truce, assaults against the Turkish troops continued, and three soldiers were killed in a recent incident in mid-September.
Turkey has been urging Russia for the full implementation of the March deal. “We are abiding by the principles under this agreement,” Defense Minister Hulusi Akar said at a meeting on late Sept. 27, reiterating that Ankara has been fulfilling its duties in regard to the deal.
“But there was recently an increase in the number of aerial attacks. We told [Russians] that it was not in accordance with the memorandum of understanding. Initiatives concerning this issue continue at all levels,” he stressed. He said Russia should also abide by the March 2020 deal.
'Russia should abide by the deal'
Turkey is concerned that any major military attack against Idlib can trigger a new refugee influx towards its borders. Akar said it was a must to be successful in Idlib in order to prevent a new influx and protect the country’s borders. “We are sensitively following the developments,” he added.
Russia, on the other hand, blames Turkey for not taking measures against the activities of the radical organizations based in the enclave. Akar defied the Russian criticisms by saying, “There are no terrorists among those who died or fled as a result of these attacks. We’ve been trying to explain this for months.”
These attacks will lead to the radicalization of people in the province, the defense minister said, adding, “The continuation of ceasefire and stability is very important.” He also informed that Turkish and Russian troops are in close dialogue in the field, expressing his hope for the Sochi meeting to result in de-escalation.
In an earlier statement, Russian President Vladimir Putin criticized the presence of the foreign armed forces in Syria, referring to the Turkish and American troops, at a meeting with Syrian President Bashar Assad in Moscow on Sept 14.
Afghanistan, Libya will also be on agenda
According to Kremlin, Erdoğan and Putin will also exchange views on the developments in Afghanistan following the Taliban’s takeover of the control in the country and Libya, which is going to hold critical elections in late December 2021.
Dimitri Peskov, Kremlin’s spokesman, stressed that the presidents will talk about the economic relationship after discussing the regional issues.
“Because, indeed, there are many common things in terms of bilateral relations, work on joint projects in the field of economics, trade and economic relations, there are many operators of these relations,” he said on Sept. 27.
“Companies of the two countries are interested in this. Therefore, the presidents always discuss this,” Peskov added.
In an interview with CBS, President Erdoğan implied that Turkey could purchase the second batch of S-400 air defense systems from Russia despite Washington’s threat of new sanctions.