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Putin and Erdogan hold critical meeting on Syria

Chase Winter
September 17, 2018

The Russian President and his Turkish counterpart have met in Sochi to strike a deal over rebel-held Idlib province in Syria. The two leaders have several issues where they are keen to score points.

Vladimir Putin and Recep Tayyip Erdogan greeting each other
Vladimir Putin and Recep Tayyip Erdogan last met in Tehran on September 7Image: picture-alliance/AA/R. Aydogan

Syria’s last rebel stronghold

The meeting at the Black Sea city of Sochi is the second in less than two weeks between Tayyip Erdogan and Vladimir Putin, after they failed to strike a deal over Idlib in a meeting in Iran earlier this month. 

Appearing alongside Putin, Erdogan said that "the entire world has eyes focused on our meeting today."

"I believe that the statement we will make after the Sochi meeting will give new hope to the region," he added, according to remarks translated into Russian.

In turn, Putin said the the talks would help "find solutions for where there are none yet."

Fear of Syrian anti-rebel offensive

Turkey is seeking to avert a widely anticipated Syrian regime offensive on Idlib, the last rebel stronghold where more than 3 million civilians are at risk.

Ankara fears a Syrian military offensive could send thousands of gunmen and hundreds of thousands of civilians pouring across its border. Those concerns are shared by Europe, which has joined the diplomatic flurry in recent weeks to avert the political and security impact of renewed refugee flows.

Read more: Who wants what in Syria?

About 60 percent of Idlib is controlled by the al-Qaeda linked Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS) and the rest by Turkish-backed rebel factions. 

The Syrian government has vowed to push all rebels and terrorist groups out of the country. 

Read more: Turkish-Russian missile deal puts NATO on edge

Millions of Syrian refugees in Turkey

The Turkish military has 12 observation posts surrounding Idlib province, established as part of a de-confliction agreement with Russia and Iran, the key backers of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

Over the past week the Turkish military has reportedly reinforced its positions in Idlib and boosted support to the rebel factions it backs.

Turkey has carved out two enclaves in to the north and east, backing rebels there and setting up local administrations. Ankara hopes to return some of the 3.5 million Syrian refugees in Turkey to these territories.

Erdogan has asked Russia and Iran for time to try to isolate HTS and turn rebel factions against the terrorist group in a bid to prevent a Syrian regime offensive. It also wants to maintain and expand its buffer zone inside Syria. 

Germany urges Russia to prevent disaster in Idlib