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Meeting In Moscow, Putin, Erdogan Vow Closer Cooperation On Syria


Russian President Vladimir Putin (right) meets with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan at the Kremlin in Moscow on January 23.
Russian President Vladimir Putin (right) meets with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan at the Kremlin in Moscow on January 23.

Following talks with his Turkish counterpart in Moscow, Russian President Vladimir Putin said the two leaders discussed how they planned to stabilize the situation in the northwestern Syrian province of Idlib.

Speaking alongside Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Putin said that more action was required to "liquidate the actions of terrorist groups" in Idlib.

Earlier, Russia’s Foreign Ministry warned that the situation in the region remained of "serious concern," saying it was almost under the full control of militants of the Al-Nusra Front, Al-Qaeda’s Syrian affiliate until 2016.

Russia and Turkey are on opposite sides of the Syrian conflict, which began with a government crackdown on protesters in March 2011. The war has left more than 400,000 people dead and displaced millions.

Russia provides critical diplomatic and military support to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s government, while Turkey has backed opposition fighters who are battling against Syrian government forces.

But Putin and Erdogan in September struck a deescalation deal in Idlib that averted a Syrian Army offensive that sparked fears of a humanitarian catastrophe. The agreement created a security zone free of heavy weapons and monitored by Turkish troops.

Russia and Turkey also agreed to coordinate ground operations in Syria after U.S. President Donald Trump's surprise announcement in December that he would withdraw some 2,000 U.S. troops from Syria.

"If such plans are implemented, it will mark a positive move that would help stabilize the situation," Putin told a joint news conference with Erdogan.

Putin also said the Russian and Turkish defense ministers had already held talks on specific action that the two countries would take in Idlib and that the measures would now be implemented.

He didn't provide details of the measures.

Erdogan said the two countries will continue to battle terrorist organizations in Idlib.

Cooperation between Moscow and Ankara is “a touchstone for Syrian peace and stability," he also said, adding: "With our Russian friends, we intend to strengthen our coordination even more."

Erdogan has said he would talk with Putin about the creation of a Turkish-controlled "security zone" in northern Syria.

The Turkish leader said on January 23 that Turkey and Russia don't have any disagreements about the plan, but Putin reaffirmed Moscow's support for "establishing dialogue between Damascus officials and representatives of the Kurds."

U.S.-allied Syrian Kurds who control much of northern Syria have rejected the idea.

They fear a Turkish military offensive against territory under their control – an offensive threatened by Erdogan, who charges that the Syrian Kurds are linked with Kurdish terrorists in Turkey.

Syrian Kurdish forces, exposed by Trump's pledge to withdraw U.S. troops, recently asked the Syrian government for help against the threatened Turkish offensive and have opened the gates to Manbij, the key northern city under Kurdish control.

The Kremlin has welcomed the recent entry of Assad’s forces into Manbij for the first time in six years.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov last week rejected the idea of Turkish military forces across northern Syria, saying Damascus must take control of the country's north.

Putin also said on January 23 that he agreed to host a summit soon where Russia, Turkey, and Iran would discuss the situation in Syria, adding that he and Erdogan had agreed on the meeting’s provisional timing.

Putin and Erdogan called each other "dear friend" while exchanging greetings at the start of their meeting, hailing the close ties between their countries and their importance for regional security.

Ahead of the talks, a Kremlin statement said the two leaders "will discuss the settlement process in Syria as well as key aspects of bilateral cooperation in trade, the economy, culture, and humanitarian area."

Erdogan was accompanied in Moscow by Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu and Defense Minister Hulusi Akar.

With reporting by AFP, Reuters, dpa, AP, TASS, Interfax

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