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Turkish-Russian Talks On Idlib. Another Ceasefire?

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Turkish-Russian Talks On Idlib. Another Ceasefire?

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On February 17th, a Turkish delegation, chaired by Deputy Foreign Minister Ambassador Sedat Önal, is to meet with a Russian delegation met in Moscow to address the situation in the demilitarized zone of Idlib, Syria.

During the meeting, which is closed to the press at the building of the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Turkish and Russian delegations included diplomats, as well as military officials and intelligence officials.

Prior to the meeting, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu gave an interview to Russian outlet Izvestia, and he made evaluations about the recent developments in Idlib.

“Much work remains to be done; we continue to actively cooperate with Russia on these issues. You’ll find out the final answer on Monday, after the meeting of our delegations in Moscow <…> We should not allow the Syrian problem to downplay our cooperation and affect our relations,” Cavusoglu said.

The diplomat stressed that following the upcoming meeting in the Russian capital, it remains to be seen whether Russia and Turkey need another meeting.

Cavusoglu’s statement came amid February 15th’s threats by the Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s threats against Damascus.

According to him, if the Syrian Arab Army does not withdraw its troops beyond the borders defined in the Sochi agreement, “we will do this work without waiting for the end of February,” Erdogan vowed.

After the Syrian army drove to Saraqib and reached the strategically important M4 – M5 routes (Aleppo – Latakia, Aleppo – Damascus), Erdogan urged Damascus to stop the offensive and withdraw troops from Turkish observation posts by the end of February. Otherwise, Ankara will respond by force.

Cavusoglu said that after the meeting on February 17th it would become clear if Erdogan and Russian President Vladimir Putin needed to meet once more and discuss the situation and further moves.

In 2020, Putin and Erdogan have met twice – once on January 7th in Istanbul when TurkStream was launched and once on January 19th during the conference on Libya.

It is still unknown when and where the next summit of the Astana troika will take place, spokesman for the Turkish Foreign Ministry Hami Aksoy said. Earlier, Erdogan hinted that this meeting could be held in March.

Meanwhile, Ankara sent another convoy with heavy weapons to Syrian Idlib, Anadolu Agency reported.

According to military sources, 150 trucks loaded with self-propelled howitzers, battle tanks and armored personnel carriers arrived in the Reyhanli region of the Turkish province of Hatay on the border with Syria for further transfer to the observation posts area in the Idlib de-escalation zone.

On February 15th, Turkey’s Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu told Russian Foreign Ministry Sergey Lavrov that attacks in Syria’s northwestern Idlib region must stop immediately and that a lasting ceasefire has to be achieved.

“I have met with Sergey Lavrov and said the aggression in Idlib should stop,” Mevlut Cavusoglu told reporters after the 56th Munich Security Conference.

Turkey attempts to present it as a humanitarian crisis, entirely denying that Idlib is filled with al-Qaeda-affiliated militants, and even goes so far as to advertise their presumed “success” in killing Syrian personnel.

After the meeting with Cavusoglu, the Russian foreign minister told the Munich conference that parts of Idlib remain “one of the last hotbeds of terrorism, at least the only one on the west bank of the Euphrates.”

Lavrov said that agreements between Moscow and Ankara “imply both a cease-fire and a demilitarized zone, but most importantly drawing a line between the normal opposition and terrorists.”

“These agreements do not mean the hard fighting against the terrorist the threat will stop,” he said.

“The Russian side will have in-depth substantive negotiations. And we hope, of course, that they will also be productive,” Deputy Foreign Minister Mikhail Bogdanov told Izvestia.

Meanwhile, an unnamed NATO source told Russian news agency TASS that if Turkey began a military operation in Idlib against the Syrian Arab Army it would not receive military support from NATO.

“NATO countries will not support the activation of Article 5 due to the death of the Turkish military in Idlib in early February,” he stressed. “NATO is not considering the possibility of providing military assistance to Turkey in the event of an operation in this region.”

“The death of Turkish military personnel in Idlib is a tragic fact, but this happened during a unilateral military operation on foreign territory, it goes beyond the interpretation of Article 5. The Turkish side also understands this, so it did not try to initiate consultations in NATO on this topic,” explained the unnamed diplomatic source.

Regarding the possibility of Ankara launching a military operation in Idlib, the purpose of which could be an attempt to stop the Syrian army’s advance and keep part of the Syrian province under the control of illegal armed groups, he noted that Turkey, as a member of NATO, “enjoys the general political support of the alliance,” but military support measures are out of the question.

“Not all European NATO states share Turkey’s goals in Syria, not to mention the situation in neighboring countries (such as Libya). At the last meeting of NATO defense ministers [February 12-13th], the question of military support [of Turkey] was not raised,” he added.

Meanwhile, the Syrian Arab Army is making significant gains, as it liberated the entire western countryside of Aleppo city from Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (formerly the Syrian branch of al-Qaeda) and other Turkish-backed militant groups.

People celebrated on the streets.

Thus, the operations are continuing and only time will tell what Russia and Turkey will agree in the talks in Moscow.

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