Russian President Vladimir Putin and his Turkish counterpart, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, have agreed to take steps towards stabilizing the situation in Syria’s northwestern province of Idlib, the last major militant stronghold in the Arab country.
On Wednesday, Putin and Erdogan held talks in the Russian capital Moscow, where the two leaders pledged to intensify their coordination in Syria.
“We have a shared conviction that we must continue jointly fighting terrorists wherever they are, including in the Idlib zone,” the Russian leader said at a joint press conference following their talks.
“We agreed how we’ll coordinate our work in the near future,” Putin said, describing the talks which included the countries’ defense ministers as “effective.”
He said the Russian and Turkish defense chiefs had discussed specific action that the two countries would take in Idlib and that the measures, which he did not explain, would now be implemented.
“Unfortunately there are many problems there and we see them,” said Putin.
— The Moscow Times (@MoscowTimes) January 24, 2019
The Russian Foreign Ministry said earlier on Wednesday that the situation in the province where Moscow and Ankara have tried to create a de-escalation zone, remained of “serious concern” and that it was almost under the full control of Nusra Front terrorists.
Putin said Turkey was doing a lot to try to remedy the situation, but that the two countries are required to take more action to “liquidate the actions of terrorist groups.”
In September last year, Turkey pledged to disarm and remove terrorists in Idlib when a deal was signed between Ankara and Moscow. That agreement put on hold a Syrian military operation to liberate the region.
Idlib is the last region in the hands of terrorists. Russia and Turkey are on opposite sides of the Syrian war. Moscow supports Damascus in its fight against militant groups fighting the Syrian government while Turkey backs the militants.
US pullout plan ‘positive step’
Putin further said if carried out, the withdrawal of US troops from northeastern Syria “will be a positive step, it will help stabilize the situation in this restive area.”
The Russian leader also noted that the “US troops are staying in the territory of the Syrian Arab Republic illegally.”
“There are no grounds in international legal law for them to stay there. There is no invitation from a legitimate government, nor a decision taken by the United Nations Security Council,” he added.
In December, US President Donald Trump abruptly announced that his country had “defeated: Daesh Takfiri terrorists in Syria and would be pulling all 2,000 American forces from the country.
Elsewhere in his remarks, Putin complained about difficulty of forming a UN-sponsored Syrian Constitutional Committee, criticizing France, Germany and Britain for having blocked the proposed make-up of the committee in December.
Putin also said that Moscow was planning a trilateral summit “in the near future” where Russia, Turkey and Iran would discuss the situation in Syria.
He did not give a date for the summit, which will be held as part of the Astana peace process, launched by the three countries in 2017.
The last meeting between Putin, Erdogan and Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani took place in the Iranian capital, Tehran, in September last year, with the fate of militant-held Idlib province dominating the agenda.
Erdogan, for his part, said it was of crucial importance that the planned US pullout from Syria will not leave room for terrorist groups to roam freely, adding that Ankara and Moscow would continue to battle terrorist groups in Idlib Province.
He said “cooperation between Russia and Turkey is a touchstone for Syrian peace and stability,” adding, “With our Russian friends we intend to strengthen our coordination even more.”
Erdogan said Turkey and Russia do not have any disagreements about a Turkish-controlled “security zone” in northern Syria suggested by Trump.
He added that Turkey has the capacity to create the “safe zone” on its own but will not exclude the United States, Russia or others if they are willing to cooperate.
Erdogan said that Ankara was in indirect contact with the Syrian government, without providing details.
The US-backed Kurdish militants, who control much of the north, have rejected the idea, fearing a Turkish offensive against territory under their control.