Turkey's Erdoğan to visit Russia as Idlib onslaught threatens crisis

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan is set to visit Russia later this month, as Turkey's role in the conflict between the Russian-backed Syrian regime and rebel forces threatens to spiral into a crisis for Ankara.

The Turkish president will head to Russia on August 27, the Turkish Presidency's Communications Directorate announced on Friday.

Erdoğan told his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin on Friday that the Syrian forces’ attacks in Idlib seriously threatened Turkey’s national security and could lead to a major humanitarian crisis. 

The two leaders discussed by phone the escalating crisis in Idlib, the last major rebel-held enclave in Syria, the Turkish presidency’s communication office said in a written statement

“During the conversation, President Erdoğan stated that the regime’s ceasefire violations and attacks in Idlib are causing a huge humanitarian crisis, that these attacks are damaging the efforts for a solution in Syria and pose a serious threat to Turkey’s national security,” the statement said. 

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s government, with backing from Moscow, launched a military offensive in Idlib in April, after the jihadi group Tahir al-Sham extended the territories it controlled in the province and started targeting neighbouring provinces.

Moscow considers this a break of a deal agreed by Turkey and Russia in September to establish a de-escalation zone in Idlib and to remove jihadist rebels. 

One of Turkey’s 12 observation posts in Idlib near the town of Morek was encircled by Syrian troops this week, while tens of thousands of the province’s population of approximately 3 million began fleeing toward the Turkish border.

Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu on Friday called for an immediate end to the fighting in Idlib and said Turkish troops would remain at the Morek observation post, Reuters reported

“Nobody can keep our forces and soldiers trapped,” Çavuşoğlu said at a news conference in Lebanon. “We are there not because we cannot get out, but because we do not want to get out. We are there in accordance with the deal we made with Russia.”