Erdogan meets Russia Defence minister as Turkey threatens invasion of Syria's Kurdish Afrin

Kurds in Syria worry a Russo-Turkish deal could lead to silent consent by Moscow to an invasion of Afrin by Ankara.
author_image Ari Khalidi

ERBIL, Kurdistan Region (Kurdistan24) - Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan sat down on Sunday with Russian Defence Minister Sergey Shoygu in Istanbul amid preparations by Ankara to invade the Kurdish Afrin region in northwestern Syria.

A group of top Turkish officials, including the country's National Intelligence chief Hakan Fidan and Turkish Army's Chief of the General Staff Hulusi Akar, accompanied Erdogan to the meeting at the presidential Tarabya Palace in Istanbul.

The Turkish President's office shared pictures of the delegations but did not disclose any detail regarding the talks.

Kurdistan24's Turkish language service reported the upcoming peace negotiations in Kazakhstan's capital of Astana between the Syrian regime and the armed opposition of the civil war-ridden country was top on the agenda.

Russia is aiding the embattled Baathist regime in Damascus with support from its air power and ground forces whereas Turkey is backing the mainly Islamist rebel groups in the northwest.

The pro-government Yenisafak newspaper dubbed the meeting as "critical."

There was no information immediately available from Russian authorities at the time of writing this report.

Both countries' relations have seen dramatic ups and downs since the beginning of the Syrian war which began over six years ago.

One of the contentious topics that created tensions between Ankara and Moscow is their often opposing policies toward the US-allied Syrian Kurds who run a de facto autonomous region in the north.

Russia has diplomatically defended the Syrian Kurdish groups until now and deployed troops to the Afrin Canton, which Turkey has recently set its eyes on "to cleanse the region from terrorists."

But the continued US military support to the Kurdish People's Protection Units (YPG) alienated Turkey from its NATO ally and Ankara initiated peace talks with Syria and the regime's two main sponsors, Russia and Iran.

Washington's plans with YPG to block the Syrian government's attempts at controlling the eastern areas on the Iraqi border has drawn Russian ire, particularly after the US shot down a regime jet last month after it was caught bombing Kurdish forces.

Kurds in Syria worry a Russo-Turkish deal could lead to silent consent by Moscow towards an invasion of Afrin by Ankara and disrupt ongoing operations to capture the IS capital of Raqqa.

Last year, Turkey launched an incursion into northern Syria to stop the YPG from seizing more territory from the Islamic State (IS) group, shortly after Erdogan apologized to his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin for shooting down a Russian jet on the border with Syria in late 2015.

In the incursion's aftermath, the Turkish-backed rebel group's four-year-long grip on the city of Aleppo increasingly weakened as the regime's army managed to push them to withdraw in a deal crafted between Moscow and Ankara.

 

Editing by G.H. Renaud