Following a day's talks in Moscow on the situation in Syria, Russian President Vladimir Putin and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan underlined that cooperation between their two countries was essential to achieving a lasting peace in Syria.
The two leaders, whose countries are on opposite sides when it comes to Syrian President Bashar Assad's legitimacy, are striving to improve regional security in the 7-year-old conflict, as well as solidify their own interests in the wake of a planned US troop withdrawal.
What did the talks focus on?
- The talks largely centered on Turkey's push for a so-called "safe zone" controlled by Turkey in northern Syria, a suggestion initially floated by US President Donald Trump and rejected by the US-aligned Kurds in the area, who fear a Turkish offensive against them.
- Other Syrian topics included the dominant influence of extremist Hayat Tahrir al-Sham militants in the northwestern region of Idlib.
- The two leaders also touted deepening business and tourism ties between the two countries, whose relations have improved markedly since a major low in 2015 when Turkey shot down a Russian jet over its border with Syria.
What did the leaders say?
- Putin and Erdogan warmly greeted each other at the start of the day, calling each other "dear friend."
- At a press conference following the talks, Erdogan said that cooperation between Turkey and Russia was essential for lasting peace in Syria and added that the US troop withdrawal must not lead to a power vacuum.
- Erdogan also said that Turkey and Russia had no disagreements on a planned "safe zone" in northeastern Syria.
- Putin said he saw the withdrawal of US troops from northeastern Syria as a positive step.
- He also said that he and Erdogan spoke about how to fight terrorist organizations in Idlib and stabilize the region through better coordination and "additional measures."
- Putin announced that he would host a summit in the future with both Turkey and Iran to further discuss Syria and how to achieve a lasting peace.
How does this relate to the situation on the ground?
- The establishment of a Turkish-controlled safe zone, which would run some 32 kilometers (22 miles) in Syria's northeast, could potentially serve as a resettlement area for Syrians who fled to Turkey.
- Russia does not want Turkey to have de facto control over part of the country and would like to make sure Syrian territory stays under President Bashar Assad's control.
- Therefore, Russia supports talks between the Syrian government and the Kurds in hopes that bringing the former opponents together could stabilize the country and deepen Assad's control.
- Turkey, meanwhile, does not want to see any such deal emerge.
What prompted the talks?
In the Syria conflict, Russia has supported Assad while Turkey has backed rebel forces fighting against the Syrian government. Over the past years, both nations have been coming together, along with Iran, to try to find a solution for lasting peace.
In December 2018, Trump announced that he would be pulling US troops out of Syria. The US had been supporting a Kurdish militia in Syria known as the People's Protection Units (YPG) in its fight to take back territory from the "Islamic State" (IS). However, Turkey opposes the YPG for its ties to a Kurdish political party that it considers a terrorist organization and a threat to Turkey's territorial integrity.
Turkey has also been massing troops on its border to Syria, raising fears from Kurdish fighters and the Russian-backed Syrian forces that an offensive could materialize.
cmb/msh (Reuters, AP, AFP)