Turkey, Russia to discuss grave situation in Syria’s Idlib

Clay Curtis
February 16, 2020

Cavusoglu met Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov on Saturday during the Munich Security Conference.

In an apparent response to Russia's criticism on Thursday, Turkish Defence Minister Hulusi Akar said Turkey would use force against rebel groups violating a January 12 ceasefire in Idlib and said Ankara was sending reinforcements to control Idlib. Erdogan has also spoken on the phone twice with Russian President Vladimir Putin since the Turkish troops were killed.

A convoy of Turkish military vehicles is deployed in the town of Turmanin, in the north of Syria's Idlib province, where fighting is ongoing between Syrian regime troops and opposition forces backed by Ankara, Saturday, February 15.

Ankara seeks a diplomatic resolution to an uptick in fighting in Idlib, Syria, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu has said, but it is prepared to take other steps if talks with Russian Federation fall through.

Rebel supporter Turkey and Damascus ally Russian Federation have worked closely on Syria in recent years despite being on opposing sides of the nine-year conflict. Ankara will likely aim to prevent Damascus' troops from surrounding more Turkish observation posts and position Turkish forces to block further Syrian advances. Moreover, while in the recent past Russia preferred not to comment or react to strongly-worded Turkish statements and President Recep Tayyip Erdogan's threats, now both the Russian Foreign and Defense Ministries are striking back with their own criticism of Turkish claims over Ankara's inability to deliver upon its commitments. "Turkey can not withstand another migration wave", Oktay said.

In a tweet, Cavusoglu described their meeting as "positive".

Government forces have for weeks been making gains in northwestern Syria and chipping away at territory held by rebel groups, focusing their latest operations on the west of Aleppo province. "If we have to do it the hard way, we are also up for that", he said, apparently referring to Ankara's Western allies. The meeting follows previous visits by a Russian delegation to Ankara.

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Earlier, Ankara had said the Turkish military eliminated 63 Syrian government troops "within 24 hours alone". Lavrov said Russian Federation had very good ties with Turkey, but the sides did not always agree on issues.

An escalation in fighting across Idlib and Aleppo has pushed more than 830,000 people to flee their homes since early December, causing what the United Nations has said is the biggest humanitarian catastrophe since the conflict started in 2011.

State-run Anadolu news agency said buses carrying commandoes and trucks with more military equipment had been sent to reinforce the Turkish observation posts.

In the conflict in Syria, which began in 2011, Turkey has supported rebels looking to oust Assad.

Turkey, which now hosts 3.6 million Syrian refugees, has said it can not handle a new influx from Idlib.

Speaking at an event of his ruling party in Istanbul, Erdogan noted that the problem in Idlib, the last rebel-held stronghold in Syria, would not be resolved until the government forces are drawn to the limits set by the Sochi deal.

Syrian government forces have made significant advances in their military push against the last major rebel bastion in the country's northwest, according to state media, in a ferocious offensive that has forced hundreds of thousands of people from their homes.

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