Syria on agenda as Putin and Er­do­gan meet in Rus­sia

Cavu­soglu: Ankara seek­ing po­lit­i­cal so­lu­tion to cri­sis


SOCHI: Rus­sian Pres­i­dent Vladimir Putin and his Turk­ish coun­ter­part Re­cep Tayyip Er­do­gan met in Sochi on Mon­day, with ef­forts to bring peace to Syria set to dom­i­nate their talks at the Black Sea re­sort.

De­spite be­ing on op­pos­ing sides of the Syr­ian con­flict, Rus­sia and Turkey have been work­ing to­gether since a 2016 rec­on­cil­i­a­tion deal ended a cri­sis caused by the shoot­ing down of a Rus­sian war plane.

“Our re­la­tion­ship has been re­stored al­most to its full ca­pac­ity,” Putin said ahead of the talks, adding that he was glad to see the Turk­ish leader.

“I am sure our meet­ing to­day will be very ef­fec­tive,” Er­do­gan said.

“The main talk­ing point will be the sit­u­a­tion in Syria — the func­tion­ing of deesca­la­tion zones and the con­tin­u­a­tion of the process of po­lit­i­cal set­tle­ment,” Krem­lin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said be­fore the meet­ing.

The pair last met in Ankara in Septem­ber, when they agreed to push for the cre­ation of a “de-es­ca­la­tion” zone in Syria’s key north­ern prov­ince of Idlib, in ad­di­tion to oth­ers al­ready pro­posed.

Rus­sia, along with Iran, is the key backer of Syr­ian Pres­i­dent Bashar As­sad. Moscow’s mil­i­tary in­ter­ven­tion in Syria is widely seen as tip­ping the bal­ance in the con­flict.

Turkey, how­ever, has backed the rebels seek­ing As­sad’s ouster.

Turk­ish For­eign Min­is­ter Mev­lut Cavu­soglu told jour­nal­ists at the meet­ing that Ankara was seek­ing a po­lit­i­cal so­lu­tion to the cri­sis.

“With­out a cease-fire we can­not talk about a po­lit­i­cal so­lu­tion. Now we have made a lot of achieve­ments and we can pay more at­ten­tion to the po­lit­i­cal process,” he said.

Moscow and Ankara have sup­ported ne­go­ti­a­tions in Kaza­khstan’s cap­i­tal As­tana from the start of the year, which have run par­al­lel to talks tak­ing place in Geneva with the back­ing of the UN.

Alexei Malashenko, di­rec­tor of re­search at the Di­a­logue of Civ­i­liza­tions in­sti­tute, said Putin and Er­do­gan had a “mu­tual need.”

“Rus­sia, which is in a very dif­fi­cult po­si­tion (in Syria), sim­ply can­not lose al­lies there — they can’t even lose part­ners, let alone al­lies,” he said.

Mean­while, Er­do­gan is dis­sat­is­fied with the West’s at­ti­tude to­ward him, Malashenko said, point­ing to a deal Ankara has signed to buy S-400 air de­fense sys­tems from Rus­sia.

The deal, re­port­edly worth $2 bil­lion, has shocked Turkey’s NATO al­lies.

Malashenko said the econ­omy could also be on the agenda at the talks, as Turkey seeks to re­gain a lead­ing role in the con­struc­tion busi­ness in Rus­sia.

“It’s a meet­ing of two charis­matic peo­ple, two peo­ple with a very high opin­ion of them­selves, two lead­ers,” Malashenko added, stress­ing the strength of the two pres­i­dents’ per­sonal re­la­tion­ship.

Er­do­gan has ex­pressed con­cern about US and Rus­sian bases in Syria and said if coun­tries truly be­lieved a mil­i­tary so­lu­tion was im­pos­si­ble they should with­draw their troops.

On Sat­ur­day, Putin and US Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump said in a joint state­ment they would con­tinue to fight Daesh in Syria, but agreed that there was no mil­i­tary so­lu­tion to the coun­try’s wider, sixyear-old con­flict.

“I am hav­ing trou­ble un­der­stand­ing these com­ments,” Er­do­gan told re­porters be­fore fly­ing to Rus­sia.

“If a mil­i­tary so­lu­tion is out of the ques­tion, then those who say this should pull their troops out.

“Then a po­lit­i­cal method should be sought in Syria, ways to head into elec­tions should be ex­am­ined... We will dis­cuss these with Putin,” he said.

Er­do­gan said both Moscow and Wash­ing­ton, which armed Syr­ian (peo­ple’s pro­tec­tion units) YPG Kur­dish forces Ankara sees as al­lied to sep­a­ratists fight­ing in south­east­ern Turkey, had set up bases.

He sug­gested nei­ther coun­try would be pulling out soon.

“The United States said it would com­pletely leave Iraq, but it didn’t. The world is not stupid, some re­al­i­ties are be­ing told dif­fer­ently and prac­ticed dif­fer­ently,” he said.

“The United States has 13 bases in Syria in to­tal and Rus­sia has five oth­ers.”

Rus­sia’s Pres­i­dent Vladimir Putin shows the way to Turkey’s Pres­i­dent Tayyip Er­do­gan dur­ing a meet­ing on Mon­day in Sochi, Rus­sia. (Reuters)

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