Putin, Erdogan sit down for talks on war-torn Syria

MOSCOW (AP) — Russian President Vladimir Putin hosted his Turkish counterpart Recep Tayyip Erdogan for talks Wednesday in the Black Sea resort of Sochi that were expected to focus on war-torn Syria.

It was the first in-person meeting for Putin in over two weeks. On Sept. 14, the Russian president went into self-isolation after a staff member he worked closely with contracted coronavirus. Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov confirmed that Putin’s two-week self-isolation ended on Wednesday.

As the two leaders sat down for talks, Putin pointed out that relations between the two countries “develop positively.”

“Negotiations are sometimes difficult, but with a positive final result. Our (government) bodies have learned to find compromises that are beneficial to both sides,” Putin said.

Erdogan echoed that sentiment and said he believed “there is great benefit in continuing our Turkish-Russian relations by strengthening them every day.”

On Syria, Russia is the main ally of the Syrian government while Turkey supports groups that have fought to unseat Syrian President Bashar Assad. However, Russian and Turkish troops have cooperated in Idlib, the final holdout of rebel forces, and in seeking a political solution in the country.

“Peace (in Syria) depends on the relations between Turkey and Russia,” the Turkish leader told Putin.

The talks between the two presidents come amid an increase in airstrikes on Turkey-backed opposition fighters’ positions in northern Syria, especially in the province of Idlib.

Last year, Turkey and Russia reached a cease-fire agreement that halted a three-month Syrian government offensive in Idlib and also saw rare direct fighting between Syrian and Turkish troops. That Russia-backed offensive killed hundreds of civilians and displaced nearly 1 million people in Idlib province.

Turkey fears that an escalation of the violence in northern Syria will lead to a new influx of refugees surging across its borders. Turkey already hosts 3.7 million Syrian refugees. For its part, Russia accuses Turkey of failing to take measures to push out radical groups from northern Syria.

Earlier this month, Putin met with Assad in Moscow and criticized the presence of Turkish and U.S. forces in northern Syria, calling their presence a flagrant violation of international law. The Russian leader was referring to hundreds of U.S. troops stationed in eastern Syria who are working with Kurdish-led fighters in battling the militant Islamic State group, as well as Turkish forces in northern Syria.

The war in Syria broke out in March 2011. It has left hundreds of thousands dead and displaced half the country’s pre-war population of 23 million people, including more than 5 million refugees outside the war-torn nation.

The talks between Putin and Erdogan on Wednesday lasted for about three hours, Russia’s state news agency Tass reported. The two leaders didn’t make any statements after the talks, but Erdogan said on social media that he left Sochi after holding a “productive” meeting with his Russian counterpart.

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Fraser reported from Ankara, Turkey.

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