Syria high on agenda as Putin and Erdogan meet in Sochi

Russian President Vladimir Putin and his Turkish counterpart Recep Tayyip Erdogan have concluded talks aimed at strengthening bilateral ties and addressing regional security issues, including the situation in war-torn Syria.

Wednesday’s meeting in Russia’s Black Sea resort of Sochi lasted for nearly three hours, marking the pair’s first in-person meeting for 18 months. Neither leader made any immediate statement after the discussions ended.

“We are abiding by the principles of the agreement reached with Russia,” Turkey’s Defence Minister Hulusi Akar told reporters prior to Wednesday’s meeting. “We expect the other side to also abide by their responsibilities under the agreement.”

Russia’s defence ministry said that work to implement an earlier deal on Syria was continuing, including joint patrols involving Russian military police. It said there had been heavy shelling by rebel fighters in the Idlib area.

Moscow says Russian forces are in Syria at the official invitation of al-Assad and that the presence of other forces is hindering his efforts to reunite and rebuild the country.

Turkey has thousands of troops in northern Syria after it deployed land and air forces over its shared border in March last year in response to the Syrian government offensive.

Turkey currently hosts 3.7 million Syrian refugees and Ankara fears that an escalation of violence in the country will lead to more people surging across its borders.

Strengthening ties

The Kremlin said that in addition to Syria, the two leaders would also discuss the situation in Afghanistan, other regional security issues and Ankara and Moscow’s burgeoning economic ties.

Turkey and Russia have forged close cooperation in the fields of energy, tourism and defence despite their disagreements over Syria – as well as conflicts in Libya and Nagorno-Karabakh, where the two powers have also been on opposing sides.

NATO member Turkey bought Russian S-400 missile defence batteries in 2019, triggering the United States to impose sanctions against its defence industries and warnings from Washington of further action if it were to buy more Russian equipment.

Erdogan last week indicated Turkey still intended to procure a second batch of S-400s, saying no country could dictate Ankara’s actions. Turkish officials told the Reuters news agency the S-400s would be discussed in Sochi.

Al Jazeera’s Resul Serdar, reporting from Istanbul, said the meeting’s significance was heightened by the fact it was taking place against the backdrop of increasingly strained relations between Turkey and the US.

“From the American perspective, the most important thing is whether Erdogan is going to deliver a statement that Turkey will buy a second batch of S-400s or not,” he said.

Rachel Ellehaus, of the Eurasia Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), said the talks were an indication Erdogan was attempting to publicly “move closer to Russia” amid the tensions with Washington.

“However it’s important to remember there’s a great deal of divergence between Turkey and Russia with regard to their long-term goals,” she added.

“In this meeting they [Putin and Erdogan] talked a lot about compromise, which seems less of a specific agreement about what each side will do and more of an agreement to stay out of each other’s way”.


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