Putin and Erdogan agree to coordinate actions in Syria

Russian President and Turkish counterpart meet in Moscow in the wake of US decision to withdraw forces from Syria.

Elad Benari ,

Erdogan and Putin
Erdogan and Putin

Russian President Vladimir Putin and his Turkish counterpart, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, met in Moscow on Wednesday and vowed to coordinate their actions more closely in Syria.

"Cooperation between Russia and Turkey is a touchstone for Syrian peace and stability," Erdogan said in translated comments at a joint press conference after their talks, which lasted around three hours, reported AFP.

"With our Russian friends we intend to strengthen our coordination even more," he added.

"We agreed how we'll coordinate our work in the near future," Putin said, calling the talks which included the countries' defense ministers "effective".

At the start of their meeting in the Kremlin, Putin addressed Erdogan as "dear friend," saying that their countries "work on issues of regional security and actively cooperate on Syria".

Erdogan used the same term for Putin and said "our solidarity makes a weighty contribution to the security of the region".

The two leaders have been on opposite sides of the Syria conflict: Russia provides critical support to the Syrian government, while Turkey has backed rebel groups fighting President Bashar Al-Assad's forces.

Despite this, they have worked closely to find a political solution to the seven-year conflict.

Turkey and Russia were in a state of open tension, after Ankara shot down a Russian fighter jet on the border in November of 2015, killing two Russian officers. In response, Russia issued vast sanctions on Turkey dealing serious financial damage.

However, Ankara and Moscow have been working closely since a 2016 reconciliation deal which ended the crisis.

Russia and Turkey have agreed to coordinate ground operations in Syria following US President Donald Trump's surprise announcement last month about pulling 2,000 American troops out of Syria.

The announcement of the US withdrawal was reportedly coordinated with Erdogan but had been made against the warning of senior security officials in the Trump administration.

Putin said that 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".

Erdogan had said on Monday he would discuss with Putin the creation of a Turkish-controlled "security zone" in northern Syria, which had been suggested by Trump.

Turkey has welcomed Washington's planned withdrawal, but the future of US-backed Kurdish militia forces labelled terrorists by Ankara has upset ties between the two countries.

The US’s main ally on the ground fighting the Islamic State (ISIS) in Syria, the Kurdish led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), have held emergency talks with Moscow and Damascus over fears that Turkey will use the US withdrawal to launch on offensive.

The Syrian Democratic Forces are led by led by the People's Protection Units (YPG), a mostly Kurdish militia. The US makes a distinction between the YPG and the PKK, but Turkey does not and has more than once expressed its outrage over the American support for YPG, which it views as a terrorist organization.

Last week, Trump threatened to “devastate Turkey economically” if it harms the Kurds after the US withdraws its troops from Syria.

Putin said Wednesday that Russia supports "establishing dialogue between Damascus officials and representatives of the Kurds".