Erdogan, Putin meet with hopes of reaching Idlib ceasefire

The Turkish and Russian presidents are meeting in Moscow for talks over a ceasefire deal amid intensifying fighting between Turkish and Syrian government forces in Syria’s northwestern Idlib province.

Last week, Turkey and fighters aligned to it launched a military operation in the region after at least 33 Turkish soldiers were killed in an air attack by the Russia-backed Syrian army.

Two Turkish soldiers died and several others were wounded on Wednesday in a fresh Syrian assault, which prompted Ankara to retaliate by striking military objectives.

On Thursday, Russian air raids in Idlib killed 16 civilians, according to Syrian civil defence group, the White Helmets, while Turkish defence ministry said 184 Syrian government forces were killed in the last 24 hours.

Ankara says its army downed three Syrian planes, destroyed hundreds of vehicles and equipment, and killed more than 3,000 government soldiers since the operation was launched on February 27.

According to the United Nations, since December, one million people, mainly women and children, have fled fighting in Idlib, after the Syrian government launched a military assault in the last opposition-held stronghold in the country.

Thursday’s meeting in Moscow takes an even more crucial turn as it becomes a ground for salvaging a deteriorating relationship between two economic partners.

Before his visit, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said he expected the talks with his counterpart Vladimir Putin to result in the rapid achievement of a ceasefire.

Russia, meanwhile, will try to maintain a tricky balance between sparing Turkey while supporting Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

“This is still in play and Moscow’s main goal will be to force Ankara to accept a new reality on the ground that Syria will not roll back to previous positions,” said Marianna Belenkaya, an expert on the Middle East and fellow at Carnegie Moscow Center think-tank.

“Both parties will have to give in on something in order to broker a ceasefire, and for Russia, that means guaranteeing to Turkey that the Syrian offensive will stop soon.”

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