Turkish, Russian teams meet in Moscow aiming agreement on a lasting cease-fire

Turkish, Russian teams meet in Moscow aiming agreement on a lasting cease-fire

Turkish, Russian teams meet in Moscow aiming agreement on a lasting cease-fire

A picture taken on Feb. 16, 2020, shows a Turkish army convoy stuck in traffic after entering Syrian territory through the Kafr Lusin border crossing in Idlib's northern countryside, in northeastern Syria. (AFP Photo)

Ankara and Moscow continue to cooperate to reach an agreement on a lasting cease-fire for conflicting parties in Idlib in northwestern Syria, but the issue should not be allowed to harm Russian-Turkish ties, according to Turkey’s foreign minister.

“A lot of work lies ahead, we continue to cooperate actively on these issues with Russia,” Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu told Russian daily Izvestia in an interview published on Feb. 17.

“The final response, you will get to know on [Feb. 17], after the meeting of our delegations in Moscow. We must not let the Syrian problem affect our cooperation and our relations.” he said.

The minister’s statement came on the day Turkish and Russian delegations were to meet in Moscow aiming a diplomatic solution to calm down tension in Idlib after the regime’s advance. The Turkish delegation is chaired by Deputy Foreign Minister Ambassador Sedat Önal. Turkish and Russian delegations include military officials and intelligence officials, as well as diplomats.

In September 2018, Turkey and Russia agreed to turn Idlib into a de-escalation zone in which acts of aggression are expressly prohibited.

But more than 1,800 civilians have been killed in attacks by Bashar al-Assad’s regime and Russian forces since then, flouting both the 2018 cease-fire and a new one that started on Jan. 12.

The Syrian regime’s offensive has disrupted Ankara and Moscow’s fragile cooperation after 13 Turkish soldiers were killed by two separate Syrian attacks in the past two weeks. Turkey retaliated to both attacks, destroying several Syrian targets.

Turkey wants to solve issues with Russia over Idlib through diplomacy but will take other steps if necessary, Çavuşoğlu said earlier.

Turkish and Russian delegations had two rounds of talks in Ankara last week, but discussions did not produce an outcome over exchanged proposals regarding the escalating situation in Idlib. Following a phone conversation, last week the Turkish and Russian presidents agreed on the continuation of talks in Moscow.

The Moscow meeting was announced after Turkish and Russian foreign ministers, Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu and Sergei Lavrov, held a face-to-face meeting in Munich on Feb. 15 to discuss the recent standoff and ways to de-escalate in Idlib.

Proceeding diplomatic efforts for Idlib though, Ankara continues a military buildup in Idlib, deploying hundreds of military vehicles and soldiers in the region.

The region also hosts around 20,000 radical terrorists, including members of Hay’at Tahrir el-Sham and al-Nusra.

Russia and Syria blamed Turkey for not being successful in convincing these groups to disarm and withdraw from the demilitarized zone and in not securing the M4 and M5 highways. Turkey, in return, criticizes the Syrian regime for violating the cease-fire and attacking the moderate groups and civilians in the pretext of anti-terror fight.

Idlib has been a stronghold of opposition and anti-government armed groups since the Syrian civil war broke out in 2011.