Putin and Erdogan seek to avoid direct confrontation in Syria

Russian President Vladimir Putin and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan agreed to work to avoid direct confrontation in Syria, during talks on Thursday.

Faced with rising troop losses, Erdogan said he hoped to strike a deal with Putin for a rapid ceasefire in the northwestern Syrian province of Idlib.

Putin also offered his condolences to Erdogan after 34 Turkish soldiers were reported killed in an attack blamed on the Syrian state military, Russia’s ally in the conflict.

Read more: Idlib crisis: The high stakes for Turkey and Russia

The meeting was held amid growing anxiety about an emerging proxy war between Turkey, and Russia, the main military backer of the Syrian state. 

“We need to discuss the situation to prevent any such incidents and also not to damage Russia-Turkey relations that we cherish,” the Russian leader said.

Putin said the Syrian military had not known the location of the Turkish troops because Ankara had not shared their location. 

In comments carried by Russian state media, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Putin was looking at agreeing on “a package of necessary joint measures.”

Both sides have said they want to return to a previous agreement, with both sides pulling back behind lines agreed in 2018.

Read more: What you need to know about the escalation in Syria’s Idlib

A key demand from Russia was that Turkey sift out “illegal armed groups” from the Idlib region who had been fighting against Damascus.

Emily Sherwin, DW’s correspondent in Moscow, said the Kremlin appeared keen to reach an agreement, but that junior level negotiations in the run-up to the leaders’ meeting had not been promising.

“It was rather surprising to see how tense the situation appeared to be in those talks when Erdogan and Putin met today,” Sherwin said. “It seemed like you could cut the tension with a knife there and of course talks today have been preceded by several other rounds of talks between ministers that haven’t led to any compromise.”

Read more: Idlib: ‘I’d rather suffer bombs than Assad’

Turkey on Wednesday said that at least two more Turkish soldiers had been killed in Idlib. Ankara officially declared an operation against the Assad government over the weekend and has since downed three Syrian warplanes and killed dozens of troops and fighters allied to Damascus.

rc/rt (AFP, dpa, Reuters, AP)

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