Erdogan seeks Russian action against terror groups in Syria

From Ajmal
Khan Yousafzai

ANKARA: Russia has to take steps to clear Syria’s Tal Rifaat and Manbij regions of terrorism, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan told his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin in a phone call on Thursday.
According to a statement by the Presidency’s Directorate of Communications, Erdoğan conveyed to Putin that Türkiye’s border regions have to be cleared from the PKK and its Syrian wing, the YPG.
Erdoğan has frequently voiced that Russia failed to live up to its commitments to provide a safe zone in the border region. In October 2019, Russia expressed commitment to removing the terrorist group from Tal Rifaat and Manbij after reaching an agreement with Türkiye during Operation Peace Spring.
Moscow also promised that the terrorists would be removed 30 kilometers (18.64 miles) from the border on the M4 road and in the area outside the Operation Peace Spring zone.
The president’s words come as recently Türkiye launched Operation Claw-Sword, a cross-border aerial campaign against the PKK terrorist group and its Syrian wing, the YPG, which have illegal hideouts across the Iraqi and Syrian borders where they plan attacks on Turkish soil.
The country’s air operation followed a PKK/YPG terrorist attack on Nov. 13 on Istanbul’s crowded Istiklal Street that killed six people and left 81 injured. After the air operation was launched, Erdoğan also signaled a ground operation to northern Iraq and northern Syria to eliminate the terrorist threat, adding that “this is not limited to just an air operation.”
The president specified northern Syria’s PKK/YPG-controlled Tal Rifaat, Manbij and Ain al-Arab (also known as Kobani) regions as possible targets to clear of terrorists.
Tal Rifaat lies 15 kilometers (9 miles) south of the border with Türkiye. The PKK/YPG controls the city and surrounding villages, and Russian troops are present in the area. The Syrian National Army (SNA) controls areas surrounding Tal Rifaat from the north, while Russian-backed Syrian troops control zones mostly to the south.
Russian troops were deployed in some PKK/YPG-controlled border areas of northern Syria following a 2019 agreement that sought to avert a previous Turkish operation threat. The statement further said that Erdoğan stated that the regime needs to be constructive and take some steps in the political process in order to get concrete results on Syria.
Russia’s long-standing effort to open a channel of dialogue between Türkiye and the Bashar Assad regime paid off last year, as the defense ministers and intelligence chiefs of Türkiye, Russia and the Assad regime met in Moscow on Dec. 28.
Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu said he expects to meet his Syrian counterpart Faisal Mekdad in Moscow in the second half of January. In mid-December, Erdoğan hinted he could meet with Assad after the meeting of both countries’ defense and foreign ministers. “We want to take a step as Syria, Türkiye and Russia,” he had said.
Any normalization between Ankara and Damascus would reshape the decadelong Syrian war. Turkish backing has been vital to sustaining moderate Syrian opposition in their last significant territorial foothold in the northwest after Assad defeated his opponents across the rest of the country, aided by Russia and Iran.
On Thursday, Erdoğan reiterated the possibility of a normalization with Syria. Addressing members of his ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Party) in the capital Ankara, Erdoğan noted that meeting of defense ministers and intelligence officials launched a “process” and noted that they planned a trilateral meeting of foreign ministers of Türkiye, Syria and Russia. “Based on developments, we, as leaders, will meet. We aim to ensure the prevalence of calm and peace in the region,” he said.