ISTANBUL: Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan told Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin on Sunday that it was imperative the Kremlin “clear” Kurdish forces from northern Syria.
Erdogan has been threatening to launch a new incursion into northern Syria to push out Kurdish forces he blames for a November bomb blast that killed six people in Istanbul.
A 2019 agreement between Moscow and Ankara ended another offensive by setting up a 30-kilometre (19-mile) “safe zone” to protect Turkey against cross-border attacks from Syrian territory.
Erdogan accuses Russia — a key player in the Syria conflict which backs President Bashar al-Assad — of failing to follow through on the deal.
Erdogan told Putin in a phone call it was “important to clear the (Kurdish fighters) from the border to a depth of at least 30 kilometres,” his office said. Erdogan stated it was a “priority”, the Turkish presidency said.
Some of the Kurdish forces are stationed in areas under Russian military control.
Others have been fighting with the United States against jihadists from the militant Islamic State group.
The Kremlin confirmed the 2019 agreement was discussed in the call.
“The two countries’ defence and foreign services will maintain close contacts in this regard,” a Kremlin statement said.
Both Moscow and Washington have been putting diplomatic pressure on Ankara not to launch a new ground campaign.
Turkey has been pummelling Kurdish positions near the border with artillery fire and drone strikes since Nov 20 in response to the bomb blast. But it has not yet poured in any major forces to support ones it already has stationed in the area. Kurdish groups deny involvement in the Istanbul attack.
Black Sea grain deal
Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan also discussed the Black Sea grain export agreement on Sunday with the leaders of Russia and Ukraine, as both sides seek changes that would boost their exports.
Turkey has acted as mediator alongside the United Nations in the grain deal, which opened up Ukrainian ports for exports after a six-month de facto Russian blockade.
Moscow is seeking better guarantees for its own food and fertiliser exports, while Kyiv wants the deal expanded to increase the number of Ukrainian ports it opens for shipping.
After his call with Putin, the Turkish presidency said Erdogan had called for a quick end to the conflict and said Moscow could start work on exporting more food products and commodities through the Black Sea grain corridor.
Russia has urged the United Nations to push the West to lift some sanctions, to ensure Moscow can freely export its fertiliser and agricultural products — a part of the Black Sea grain deal that Moscow says has not been implemented.
“The deal is of complex character, which requires the removal of obstacles for the relevant supplies from Russia in order to meet the demands of the countries most in need,” the Kremlin said in a statement.
Zelenskiy said on Twitter he had “discussed further work & possible expansion of the grain corridor” with Erdogan.
Ukraine and Russia are both among the world’s largest grain producers and exporters. Russia’s blockade of Ukrainian ports following its invasion threatened to cause a global food crisis earlier this year, which was mitigated by the Turkish-brokered deal that unblocked Ukrainian shipments at the end of July.
The Kremlin said Erdogan and Putin also discussed a Russian proposal to create a base in Turkey for exports of Russian natural gas.
Putin suggested the idea in October as a means to redirect supplies from Russia’s Nord Stream pipelines to Europe, damaged in explosions in September. Erdogan has supported the concept.
Published in Dawn, December 12th, 2022