Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu had a phone conversation with his Russian counterpart Sergey Lavrov on Jan. 17 to discuss recent developments in Syria
The two discussed upcoming National Dialogue meeting in Black Sea resort Sochi and the issue of “violations of the Syrian regime” of the Astana process, a Foreign Ministry official told the Hürriyet Daily News, adding that the request came from the Russian side.
The Russian Foreign Ministry also issued a statement after the conversation, saying the Syrian National Dialogue meeting would be a “major milestone on the way to reaching a settlement in the Syrian political question.”
The two top diplomats also discussed “issues related to alleviating the humanitarian problems of the civilian population in Syria and compliance with the ceasefire in the de-escalation zones in accordance with the agreements reached in Astana,” according to the ministry’s statement.
The move comes amid the Syrian regime’s continued military advance in Idlib, backed by its allies Russia and Iran, and a recent move by the U.S. to form a “border security force” including members of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) in northern Syria. It also comes amid Turkey’s vaunted operation in Syria’s Afrin region to clear out the Syrian Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG), but the Russian Foreign Ministry statement did not mention Afrin.
Meanwhile, Prime Minister Binali Yıldırım received the Russian ambassador in Ankara on Jan. 16 for a long-awaited courtesy visit after the latter’s assignment in Turkey, replacing Andrey Karlov, who was shot dead in Ankara in December 2016.
Russia plans to host peace talks in Sochi on Jan. 29-30 aimed at ending the Syrian civil war through dialog between opposition groups and the regime.
However, the issue of participants remains a matter of debate as Turkey objects to the representation of Syrian Kurds by the Democratic Union Party (PYD). In December, the Free Syrian Army (FSA) – backed by Turkey – said it would refuse send representatives to the congress in Sochi if the meeting avoids talks about the future of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
While Russia pushes for peace talks, elite Syrian army forces are wrenching control of towns from rebels in Idlib province. But Ankara has warned Moscow and Tehran that the offensive has targeted moderate opposition fighters and violates the accord reached in Astana, Kazakhstan, which provides for de-escalation zones guaranteed by the three regional powers.
Officials from Turkey, Russia, and Iran will convene on Jan. 19-20 for preparatory consultations of the Sochi meeting.
‘Like-minded countries’ meeting for Syria
Turkey has also been attempting to integrate peace efforts for Syria, which have so far been conducted on two separate platforms: The Astana process and the Geneva talks. To this end, Ankara says it wants to convene a “meeting of like-minded countries” for Syria.
A Foreign Ministry official told the Hürriyet Daily News that the aim of such a platform would be to encourage “currently passive countries,” including the U.S., to further strengthen their contributions to a political process in Syria.
Ankara is waiting to see the outcome of the Geneva talks next week and the Sochi meeting on Jan. 29-30 in order to plan the schedule of the “like-minded countries” meeting, probably to be held in February.