Published: 22 Oct 2019 |
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan will meet his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin as the five-day ceasefire in northern Syria nears its end. The meeting will decide whether Syria relapses into war or gets a chance for peace.
Meeting at the Black Sea resort of Sochi, Putin and Erdogan will discuss “developments” in Syria and the “normalization of the situation in the country’s northeastern regions,” according to the Kremlin. Discussions will also include “countering international terrorist groups and promoting the political settlement process.”
He offered a few hints on Saturday during a speech in the city of Kayseri, which was aired by the broadcaster NTV. Noting that Syrian troops and their Russian allies have moved into the 20-mile “safe zone” along the border, Erdogan said he would raise that issue with Putin and “implement [Turkey’s] own plans” if they fail to resolve it, according to TASS.
“In case the promises to Turkey are not fulfilled, we won’t be waiting as before. We will be going ahead with the operation and will keep on destroying terrorists,” he said.
Turkey launched an incursion into northern Syria, dubbed ‘Operation Peace Spring,’ on October 9, targeting the Kurdish militias that have held the area since the defeat of Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS). Ankara considers these militias, which were allied with the US, to be terrorist groups linked to the separatist Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK).
Condemned by its NATO allies and threatened with sanctions by Washington, Turkey agreed to suspend operations on October 17, pending a Kurdish withdrawal. By that time, however, US troops pulling out of the contested zone were already being replaced by Syrian Army forces, under an agreement struck between the Kurds and Damascus. This has effectively removed Ankara’s pretext for the invasion in the first place.
On Monday, Erdogan told an international forum in Istanbul that his government has “never sat down to negotiate with terrorist groups,” and he does not intend to start now. While this is no doubt popular with his constituency at home, no one has asked him to participate in any such negotiations.