Erdogan hosts Russia defence chief amid Syria border tensions

Erdogan hosts Russia defence chief amid Syria border tensions
2 min read
02 July, 2017
Turkey's president held talks with Russian Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu in Istanbul on Sunday, as tension soared on the Syrian border between Turkish troops and a Kurdish militia.
The meeting was held in Istanbul on Sunday [Turkish Presidency]

Turkey's president held talks with the Russian defence minister in Istanbul on Sunday, as tension soared on the Syrian border between Turkish troops and a Kurdish militia.

Recep Tayyip Erdogan met with Russia's Sergei Shoigu at Istanbul's Tarabya Palace by the Bosphorus, the presidency said, with images showing Turkey's top general Hulusi Akar and spy chief Hakan Fidan were also in attendance.

Turkey and Russia were long at loggerheads over the Syrian conflict, with Ankara seeking the removal of President Bashar al-Assad and Moscow remaining his chief international ally.

But cooperation had tightened markedly since last year, with the two countries jointly sponsoring peace talks in the Kazakh capital Astana.

Last August, Turkey launched its Euphrates Shield cross-border operation aimed at clearing the border zone in northern Syria of both Kurdish militia fighters and militants.

The operation was wound up in March but Erdogan has not excluded a new cross-border offensive should the need arise.

Turkish troops and Syrian Kurdish People's Protection Units (YPG) have repeatedly exchanged cross-border fire in recent days and there is speculation Ankara may be planning an assault on the group in Afrin. 

Ankara considers the YPG a terrorist group and the Syrian branch of the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) which has waged an insurgency inside Turkey since 1984.

But Washington is arming the YPG and the group is heavily involved in the US-backed operation to clear Islamic State (IS) militants from their stronghold of Raqqa.

Meanwhile, the Sabah daily said on Sunday that pro-Ankara Syrian rebels were on standby for an operation against the YPG and Russia could ensure security in the air.

Asked about the possibility of an operation around Afrin, presidential spokesman Ibrahim Kalin said: "We take all measures to protect our borders and national security."

He said the Turkey would "instantly" hit back against any threat from Syria, be it from IS, the PKK or the YPG.