Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan will visit Russia on Thursday for a summit with his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin to discuss the mounting tensions in Syria, his office said Monday.
“The president is due to pay a one-day visit to Russia on March 5,” the Turkish presidency said in a statement.
Turkey confirmed on Sunday that it had launched a full military operation against Russian-backed Syrian forces following increasing clashes in the last rebel stronghold of Idlib.
Ankara, which backs Islamist fighters in the province, killed 19 Syrian soldiers in drone strikes on Sunday, and downed two regime planes.
But it remains determined to avoid direct clashes with Moscow, with which it shares significant defense and trade ties.
Despite being on opposing sides of the conflict, Turkey and Russia have coordinated closely in the past. They secured a deal in Sochi in 2018 that led to Turkey establishing 12 military observation posts in Idlib to prevent a Syrian offensive and a fresh flood of refugees into Turkish territory.
But Syria and Russia look increasingly determined to regain full control of the area and an offensive launched in December has displaced close to a million civilians, and seen increasing clashes between Turkish and Syrian forces.
The latest escalation followed the killing of 34 Turkish soldiers last week in an airstrike blamed on Damascus.
— Bulgarian Military (@BGMilitary) March 2, 2020
Kremlin says cooperation with Turkey on Syria of ‘great importance’
The Kremlin said Monday that cooperation with Turkey is a top priority, confirming a meeting between the Russian and Turkish presidents on Thursday over escalating tensions in Syria.
Russia attaches “great importance to cooperation with our Turkish partners,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said ahead of the talks in Moscow between Vladimir Putin and Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
The meeting announced on Monday comes after a sharp ratcheting up of tensions in Syria’s northern Idlib province where Turkey has announced a full-scale offensive against the Russian-backed Syrian army.
Peskov told reporters that Moscow and Ankara are keeping lines of communication open and that the focus must now be on dialogue between the Turkish and Russian leaders.
“Our militaries are in constant contact. The main thing is that we now focus on negotiations between Putin and Erdogan,” he said.
Despite being on opposing sides of the conflict, Turkey and Russia have coordinated closely in the past.
They secured a deal in the southern Russian city of Sochi in 2018 that led to Turkey establishing 12 military observation posts in Idlib to prevent a Syrian offensive and a fresh flood of refugees into Turkish territory. However, a recent Syrian military campaign backed by Russia to recapture Idlib has sparked concerns over the worst humanitarian crisis since fighting began in 2011.
Turkey neutralizes 1,709 Syrian regime elements in Idlib
The Turkish Armed Forces have destroyed a total of 55 tanks, three helicopters, 18 armored vehicles, 29 howitzers, 21 military vehicles, four Docka anti-aircraft guns, six ammunition depots, and seven mortars in the operations, said the sources on condition of anonymity due to restrictions on speaking to the media.
In September 2018, Turkey and Russia agreed to turn Idlib into a de-escalation zone in which acts of aggression are expressly prohibited.
— Haaretz.com (@haaretzcom) March 1, 2020
But more than 1,300 civilians have been killed in attacks by the regime and Russian forces in the de-escalation zone since then as the cease-fire continues to be violated.
News Desk with inputs from AFP and Anadolu