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Putin invites Erdogan to Russia amid deadly Syria offensive

Russian President Vladimir Putin invited Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan to Russia [Getty]

Date of publication: 16 October, 2019

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Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan will visit his Russian counterpart in Russia soon, the Kremlin said, as the two sides aim to prevent clashes between Turkish and Syrian regime forces.
Russian President Vladimir Putin discussed the conflict in Syria in a phone call with Recep Tayyip Erdogan and invited the Turkish leader to visit Russia soon, the Kremlin said.

The invitation comes a week after Ankara launched a deadly offensive on Kurdish positions in northern Syria, which has garnered international condemnation and concerns for human life.

Putin invited Erdogan "for a working visit in the coming days. The invitation was accepted," Putin's office said in a statement late Tuesday.

It said the two leaders emphasised "the need to prevent confrontations between units of the Turkish army and Syrian armed forces".

Russia is a key ally of Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad and launched a military intervention in 2015 in support of his forces.

The call was initiated by Turkey, the Kremlin said.

Putin raised concerns in the call about "terrorists attempting to break free and infiltrate neighbouring countries" amid Ankara's offensive.

The international community has expressed their concern that Ankara's "Operation Peace Spring" could allow for a resurgence of IS as fighters escape from Kurdish-held prisons amid the fighting.

Growing influence

Russia said on Tuesday that it was patrolling between Syrian and Turkish forces after the United States confirmed it had pulled its troops out of northeastern Syria.

Russia, whose role as Syria's predominant foreign power has grown, said the patrols were taking place after the regime - invited to return by Kurdish forces who lost their US patrons - took control of Manbij.

"The Syrian government army has full control over the city of Manbij and nearby settlements," the defence ministry said in a statement.

"Russian military police continue to patrol the northwestern border area of Manbij district along the line of contact between the Syrian Arab Republic and Turkish armed forces," it said.

"Cooperation is organised with the Turkish side."

A spokesman for the US-led coalition confirmed its forces had pulled out of the area.

Explainer: Where the world stands on Turkey's 'Operation Peace Spring' Syria offensive

"Coalition forces are executing a deliberate withdrawal from northeast Syria. We are out of Manbij," the spokesman said.

Syrian forces have moved into several Kurdish-controlled areas as part of a deal to protect the region from an assault by Turkish forces.

United States President Donald Trump pulled out US troops last week, effectively giving a green light to Turkey to move in, as he voiced impatience with what he said was a wasteful mission.

A US official said that Moscow and Washington were using established channels to avoid conflict and played down the number of Russians on the ground.

"The number of Russians is very, very limited. But it only takes a few Russians with a big Russian flag to get everybody to pay attention," the senior administration official told reporters in Washington.

"I would say not even hundreds at this point," he said.

Moscow's special envoy on Syria, Alexander Lavrentyev, said Tuesday that it would not allow clashes between Turkish and Syrian forces.

"This would simply be unacceptable... And therefore we will not allow it, of course," Lavrentyev, who was on a visit to the United Arab Emirates, was quoted as saying by Russian news agencies. 

He said Turkish and Syrian officials were in contact to avoid any conflict. 

"Negotiations are taking place in real time," he said.

'Not negative' 

Meanwhile, President Erdogan dismissed a US proposal to broker a ceasefire in northern Syria and said he was not worried over US sanctions, in comments published in Turkish media on Wednesday.

He also said the Syrian army's entry into the flashpoint northern Syrian city of Manbij was not a "very negative" development for his country as long as the region is cleared of Syrian Kurdish fighters.

"They tell us 'to declare a ceasefire'. We can never declare a ceasefire," Erdogan told journalists on a flight back from Azerbaijan, in comments published by the Hurriyet daily.

US Vice President Mike Pence and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo will travel on Wednesday to Ankara to press Turkey to halt its offensive against Syrian Kurdish fighters, President Donald Trump said on Tuesday.

Pence's office released a separate statement adding that he would "voice the United States' commitment to reach an immediate ceasefire and the conditions for a negotiated settlement."

"It is not possible for us to declare a ceasefire" until Turkey clears the "terror organisation" from its border, Erdogan said, referring to the Kurdish forces.

Pence is due to meet Erdogan on Thursday, the US statement added, to reiterate Trump's commitment to impose "punishing economic sanctions" on Turkey until a resolution is reached.

Read also: Russia, China block UN text demanding halt to Turkish offensive in Syria

"They are pressuring us to halt the operation. We have a clear target. We are not worried about the sanctions," Erdogan said.

The Turkish leader also said the Syrian army taking control of Manbij was not a big problem for Ankara. 

"The regime's entry into Manbij is not a very, very negative (development) to me. Why? Because it is their own land," he said, adding that what mattered for Turkey was the removal of Kurdish militants.

Turkey, a vocal opponent of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, backs rebels fighting for his ouster.

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