Putin Says Turkey and Russia Ready to 'Stabilize' Syria's Idlib - 'Liquidate' Terrorists

Russian and Turkish leaders, who 'are actively collaborating on Syria,' met in Moscow for talks on proposed 'safe zone' near the Turkish border

Russian President Vladimir Putin shakes hands with Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan prior to their talks in the Kremlin in Moscow, Russia, January 23, 2019.
Mikhail Klimentyev/Sputnik, Kremlin Pool Photo via AP

Russian President Vladimir Putin said on Wedensday, after a meeting with Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan in Moscow, that Turkey was doing a lot to try to remedy the situation in Syria, but that more action by both Ankara and Moscow was required to "liquidate the actions of terrorist groups." 

The Russian leader said the two had discussed how they planned to stabilise the situation in Syria's Idlib province. "Unfortunately there are many problems there and we see them," said Putin, standing alongside Erdogan

The Russian Foreign Ministry said earlier on Wednesday that the situation in the region, where Moscow and Ankara have tried to create a de-escalation zone, was rapidly deteriorating and that it was almost under the full control of Nusra militants. 

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Erdogan, on his part, said Turkey and Russia don't have any disagreements about a planned safe zone in northern Syria. He added it was of crucial importance that the planned U.S. withdrawal from Syria does not leave room for terrorist groups to roam freely, saying Turkey and Russia would continue to battle terrorist organisations in Syria's Idlib province.

Putin said the Russian and Turkish defence ministers had already held talks on specific action that the two countries would take in Idlib and that the measures, which he didn't describe, would now be implemented. 

Putin said he had agreed to host a summit soon where Russia, Turkey and Iran would discuss the situation in Syria. He did not name a date for the summit, but said he and Erdogan had agreed on its provisional timing. 

The Russian leader also complained about the difficulty of forming a U.N.-sponsored constitutional committee for Syria, saying that France, Germany and Britain had blocked the proposed make-up of the committee in December, a move he said had come as a surprise for Moscow.

Russian-Turkish relations have improved to a large extent because of Erdogan's "personal merit," Putin said in opening comments before their meeting, calling the Turkish leader a "dear friend." 

The improvement can be considered "your personal achievement because you focus a lot of attention on this," Putin said, according to a Kremlin transcript.

"We are engaged in many issues of regional security, actively collaborating on Syria," Putin said. 

Turkey has been pursuing the so-called safe zone along its border with northern Syria to provide security and stem the flow of migrants as the United States withdraws troops from the war-torn country.

Russia and Turkey, which support opposing sides in the conflict, reached a deal last year to create a demilitarized buffer zone in the northern Syrian rebel stronghold of Idlib, staving off an assault by Syrian government forces.

Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said Monday that the "situation in the Idlib de-escalation zone is rapidly deteriorating," evoking "serious concern."

The area is now controlled by extremist group Hayat Tahrir al-Sham, which has "ousted the forces of the moderate armed opposition," Zakharova said in comments carried by Russian state news agency TASS.

Last week Turkish state news agency Anadolu published a map of the planned safe zone, starting at the pro-Turkish rebel-controlled border town of Jarabulus and extending to the Iraqi border.

The zone would be 460 kilometres long and 32 kilometres wide, Anadolu said, also including important Syrian Kurdish cities such as Kobane. 

Syrian Kurds, who have played a major role in battling Islamic State in Syria, control large parts of northern Syria.

Erdogan has said this zone should be created with "logistic and financial" support from U.S. coalition forces.

He has been discussing this with U.S. President Donald Trump, who, in December, shocked allies when he announced the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Syria.

Russia has meanwhile suggested transferring control of all Kurdish-held areas in northern Syria to the government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, the Syrian armed forces and Syrian administrative structures.

During their talks on Wednesday, Putin and Erdogan are also expected to discuss TurkStream, a new natural gas pipeline from Russia that is expected to be operational this year.