Turkey dismissed on Saturday Russian accusations that it has flouted de-escalation agreements with Russia and Iran in Syria’s Idlib province, and threatened to take military action in the area if diplomatic efforts with Moscow fail.
Turkey and Russia, which back opposing sides in Syria’s war, agreed in 2018 to set up a de-escalation zone in the northwestern province. But their fragile cooperation has been disrupted by a Syrian government offensive in Idlib, in which 13 Turkish soldiers have been killed in the past two weeks.
Ankara has said it will use military power to drive back the Syrian forces unless they withdraw by the end of February, and President Tayyip Erdogan has said Turkey will strike government forces anywhere in Syria if another Turkish soldier was hurt.
Erdogan discussed the situation in separate phone calls on Saturday with Russian President Vladimir Putin and US President Donald Trump but there was no immediate word of a diplomatic breakthrough.
Russia, which backs Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, says Turkey, which has poured military forces into Idlib, has aggravated the situation and failed to neutralize militants there. But Turkey blames the situation on the advances by Syrian government forces in Idlib.
“We cannot overlook the cruelty happening in our neighbor,” Turkish Vice President Fuat Oktay told broadcaster NTV. “Turkey has fulfilled its responsibilities in Idlib.”
Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said Turkey wanted to resolve matters with Russia over Idlib through diplomacy. But, speaking during an international security conference in Munich, he added: “If it won’t work through diplomatic channels, we will take the necessary steps.”
Ankara has been angered by the seizure by Syrian government forces of Turkish military observation posts established in Idlib under the 2018 deal. “It is impossible for us to remain silent against their siege. We are doing what is necessary against them,” NTV quoted Erdogan as saying on a flight back from Pakistan.
Erdogan also chided the United States, a NATO ally, saying US statements of support did not instill trust.
Despite the tough rhetoric, Russian and Turkish officials are talking behind the scenes. Turkish and Russian officials held talks in Ankara on Saturday and Cavusoglu said a Turkish delegation would go to Moscow on Monday for talks.