Putin and Erdogan agree on need to boost efforts for Syria peace

SOCHI, Russia: Russian President Vladimir Putin and his Turkish counterpart Recep Tayyip Erdogan agreed Monday on the need to boost efforts to achieve a lasting political settlement in Syria.

Despite being on opposing sides of the Syrian conflict, Russia and Turkey have been working together since a 2016 reconciliation deal ended a crisis caused by the shooting down of a Russian warplane.

During four hours of talks at the Black Sea resort of Sochi, in southwest Russia. the two sides agreed on the need to do more to stabilise Syria, Putin said.

"We are united in the need to increase efforts to ensure the long-term stabilisation (of Syria), above all to advance the process of a political settlement," the Russian leader told reporters after the meeting.

"We agreed that there is now a base which allows us to focus on the political process," said Erdogan.

The pair last met in Ankara in September, when they agreed to push for the creation of a "de-escalation" zone in Syria's key northern province of Idlib, in addition to others already proposed.

Russia, along with Iran, is the key backer of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. Moscow's military intervention in Syria is widely seen as tipping the balance in the conflict.

Turkey, however, has backed the rebels seeking Assad's ouster.

"Our relationship has been restored almost to its full capacity," Putin said ahead of the talks, adding that he was glad to see the Turkish leader.

'Mutual need'

Their efforts have helped bring about a de-escalation of violence in parts of Syria, though fighting continues.

Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu told journalists earlier that Ankara was seeking a political solution to the crisis.

"Without a ceasefire we cannot talk about a political solution. Now we have made a lot of achievements and we can pay more attention to the political process," he said.

Moscow and Ankara have supported negotiations in Kazakhstan's capital Astana from the start of the year, which have run parallel to talks taking place in Geneva with the backing of the United Nations.

Alexei Malashenko, director of research at the Dialogue of Civilisations institute, said Putin and Erdogan had a "mutual need".

"Russia, which is in a very difficult position (in Syria), simply cannot lose allies there – they can't even lose partners, let alone allies," he told AFP.

'High opinions of themselves'

Meanwhile Erdogan is dissatisfied with the West's attitude towards him, Malashenko said, pointing to a deal Ankara has signed to buy S-400 air defence systems from Russia.

The deal, reportedly worth US$2 billion (RM8 billion), has shocked Turkey's Nato allies.

"It's a meeting of two charismatic people, two people with a very high opinion of themselves, two leaders," Malashenko added.

An apparent agreement at the last talks between Putin and Erdogan saw the release of two leading Crimean Tatar activists who had been sentenced by Russian authorities for their political activities in the peninsula annexed from Ukraine.

Erdogan has pledged to support Crimea's Turkish-speaking Tatar minority.

Russia and Turkey have a record of struggling to overcome a regional rivalry that goes back to the Ottoman Empire and the Romanov dynasty.

Ties between the two countries went through their worst crisis since the end of the Cold War when the Turkish air force shot down a Russian warplane over Syria in November 2015.

More than 330,000 people have been killed in Syria since the conflict began in March 2011 with anti-government protests. — AFP