Turkish, Russian teams to continue talks on Idlib

Turkish, Russian teams to continue talks on Idlib

ANKARA-Anadolu Agency
Turkish, Russian teams to continue talks on Idlib

Russian officials had talks with Turkish interlocutors on Feb. 8 aimed at stopping the Syrian government’s offensive in Syria’s northwestern Idlib region and halting an imminent humanitarian catastrophe there.

In Ankara, officials from Turkey and Russia held three hours of talks, agreeing to meet again next week, the Foreign Ministry said after the initial talks.

“The situation in Idlib was discussed. Steps that could be taken to establish peace on the ground as soon as possible and advance the political process were evaluated,” said the ministry.

Turkey was represented in talks as a team under the leadership of Deputy Minister Ambassador Sedat Önal, made up of officials from the Foreign Ministry, Defense Ministry, General Staff and National Intelligence Organization (MİT). The Russian team included representatives of military and intelligence authorities, chaired by and the Special Representative of the Russian Federation Ambassador Alexander Lavrentiev, said the ministry.

Speaking at a news conference in Ankara on Feb. 7, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu repeated that Turkey would do whatever is necessary to stop a humanitarian tragedy in Idlib, where on Thursday Russian-led Syrian forces entered the strategic town of Saraqeb. “A delegation from Russia will arrive in Turkey. We will hold talks. Our goal is to stop the [Syrian] regime’s aggression and move the political process forward,” he said.

Russia-backed Syrian forces have pressed to capture Idlib, the last rebel stronghold in the country, displacing more than half a million people since early December. Their shelling last week killed eight Turkish personnel, prompting a retaliation. The escalation in Syria’s nearly nine-year-old war disrupted fragile cooperation between Ankara and Moscow and raised concern over future collaboration given they support opposing sides.

After the attack on Feb. 3, Turkey and Russia canceled a regular joint military patrol in northern Syria. A Turkish security source said the patrol was postponed over “harsh weather.” “There is coordination at all times,” the source told journalists in Ankara. “The patrol was not halted.” Turkey established a dozen military observation posts in the Idlib region positioned around a “de-escalation zone” agreed by Turkey, Russia and Iran in 2018.

The latest Syrian push has led to three posts falling in areas under Syrian government control, the security source said, adding all such posts are equipped with enough personnel and equipment to defend themselves. “There are no issues (at the surrounded posts) and the deployment of reinforcements are made regularly and without any problems,” he said. Asked if any Turkish troops were pulled from the posts after the advances by Bashar al-Assad’s forces, the official said this was “absolutely out of question” and the posts would remain.

The escalation in Idlib has displaced around 600,000 people since the beginning of December, according to the United Nations, and disrupted the fragile cooperation between Russia and Turkey, which already hosts 3.6 million Syrian refugees. Turkey fears another influx towards its border, while Ankara has said the latest assault has displaced close to one million people.