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Erdogan and Putin meet in Moscow for talks on military conflict in Syria

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Turkey's Erdogan met Russia's Putin in Moscow for talks over Syria
Turkey's Erdogan met Russia's Putin in Moscow for talks over Syria   -   Copyright  Mikhail Klimentyev/Sputnik
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The Turkish and Russian presidents met face to face on Thursday for talks over Syria where their forces or proxies are in near-direct conflict.

It was their first meeting since at least 33 Turkish soldiers were killed in an airstrike near Idlib, sparking a NATO emergency meeting.

Before the latest crisis, President Vladimir Putin and President Recep Tayyip Erdogan had managed to coordinate their interests in Syria despite being on opposing sides in the nine-year war.

Moscow supports Syrian President Bashar Assad while Ankara supports anti-government forces.

Both Russia and Turkey appear eager to avoid a showdown, but the sharply conflicting interests in Idlib province make it difficult to negotiate a mutually acceptable compromise.

'Relations that we cherish'

Both leaders underlined the need to reach agreement at the start of the Kremlin talks. Putin said they need to work out steps to end fighting and prevent damage to bilateral relations. Erdogan also voiced hope for finding a settlement and pointed at blossoming Russia-Turkey trade.

Associated Press
“The world's eyes are on us," Erdogan told Putin before talks in Moscow.Associated PressPavel Golovkin

A Russia-backed Syrian offensive to regain control over Idlib has pushed nearly a million Syrians toward Turkey. Erdogan responded by opening Turkey's gateway to Europe in an apparent bid to coerce the West to offer more support to Ankara.

Putin offered his condolences to Erdogan over Turkish losses in a Syrian airstrike, but noted that Syrian troops also suffered heavy losses.

“We need to discuss the situation to prevent any such incidents and also not to damage Russia-Turkey relations that we cherish,'' the Russian leader said.

“The world's eyes are on us," Erdogan said. “The steps we will take, the right decisions we will take here today will help ease (concerns in) the region and our countries.”

Costly crisis

Before the leaders met, Putin discussed the situation in Idlib with European Council head Charles Michel. The Kremlin said Michel informed Putin about the EU's efforts to block the flow of migrants.

The fighting in Idlib comes as the most severe test to Russia-Turkey ties since the crisis triggered by Turkey's downing of a Russian warplane near the Syrian border in November 2015. Russia responded with an array of sweeping economic sanctions, cutting the flow of its tourists to Turkey and banning most Turkish exports — a punishment that eventually forced Turkey to back off and offer apologies.

Turkey can't afford a replay of that costly crisis, far less a military conflict with a nuclear power, but it has a strong position to bargain with. Moscow needs Ankara as a partner in a Syrian settlement and Russia's supply routes for its forces in Syria lie through the Turkish Straits.

Moscow also hopes to use Ankara in its standoff with the West. Last year, Turkey became the first NATO country to take delivery of sophisticated Russian air defence missile systems, angering the United States. Turkey has put its deployment on hold amid the crisis in Idlib.