Turkey, Russia to hold more talks to reduce Syria tensions

Turkey, Russia to hold more talks to reduce Syria tensions
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan addresses his supporters, in Izmir, Turkey, Saturday, Feb. 22, 2020. A Turkish soldier was killed in Syria's northwest Idlib province, state-run Anadolu news agency reported Saturday. He was at least the 16th member of the Turkish military to die in February during an offensive by Syrian government forces. (Presidential Press Service via AP, Pool)

ANKARA, Turkey (AP) — Turkey’s president announced Tuesday that a Russian delegation would arrive the following day to resume talks aimed at easing tensions in northwestern Syria. He also said no consensus was reached for a four-way meeting next month between the leaders of France, German, Russia and Turkey.

However, Recep Tayyip Erdogan said Russia’s Vladimir Putin may still come to Turkey next week for a bilateral meeting. Moscow has so far not confirmed a March 5 visit by the Russian president to Turkey. Erdogan spoke to reporters before departing for a visit to Azerbaijan.

Tensions have been running high amid a Syrian government forces offensive in Idlib and parts of Aleppo province, the last remaining rebel-held territories in Syria. The government forces have captured dozens of towns and villages in the Russian-backed offensive since December. More than 900,000 people have been displaced, many of them now crowding an area close to the border with Turkey.

The Syrian government offensive has also shattered a fragile cease-fire agreement that Turkey and Russia reached in 2018, despite supporting rival sides in the Syrian conflict. Turkey has threatened military action unless Syrian forces retreat to positions they held before the advance.

“Russia supports Syria at the highest level,” Erdogan said. “Even if they deny it, we have evidence. We are forced to be in this fight.”

“A delegation from Russia will arrive in our country tomorrow,” Erdogan also said. Turkish officials had reported small progress in two previous rounds of Turkey-Russia meetings but said the results were not satisfactory.

Turkey had set up a dozen observations as part of the 2018 agreement, many of which are now behind Syrian government lines. Ankara has sent thousands of troops into Idlib in recent weeks.

At least 16 Turkish soldiers were killed in clashes during the Syrian government’s push on the last rebel stronghold.