The Russian delegation which traveled to Ankara to discuss Turkey’s request to stop the Syrian government forces’ offensive against Idlib has now left Turkey, a source in diplomatic circles told Reuters. Apparently the two sides were unable to reach an agreement on how to put an end to the confrontations, which in the space of a week have already resulted in the deaths of 13 Turkish soldiers.
The Russian representatives arrived in Ankara on Saturday, February 8, several days after eight Turkish soldiers were killed in shelling by the Syrian government forces. On Monday, while the Turkish and Russian representatives were in the middle of their discussions in Ankara, a second incident occurred in Idlib, in which another five Turks were killed.
Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu announced previously that the Russian delegation had visited the Turkish Foreign Ministry on Saturday, and that another meeting had taken place on Monday, after which it was determined that no agreement could be reached.
The delegates from Moscow also met with Turkish presidential advisor Ibrahim Kalin.
In a statement released after the meeting, the Turkish Presidential Administration reported that Ankara had once again informed the Russian delegation that the attacks against the Turkish “observation posts” in north-western Syria “must stop immediately”, and that Turkey “will not fail to respond”.
According to sources in the Russian Foreign Ministry, the talks in Turkey focused on the new developments in Syria, especially within the Idlib “de-escalation zone”. The negotiations were held between February 8-10. The Russian Foreign Ministry reported that its delegation included the president’s special representative for the Syrian conflict, Alexander Lavrentyev, and Deputy Foreign Minister Sergey Vershinin, as well as members of Russia’s defense department.
At the talks, Turkey was represented by Deputy Foreign Minister Sedat Onal and the president’s political advisor, Ibrahim Kalin.
No other details on the negotiations have been reported.
On February 10, one of most serious exchanges of blows took place between the Turkish contingent and Assad’s forces in Idlib. The Turkish Defense Ministry claims to have carried out missile and artillery attacks against 115 targets in north-western Syria and to have “neutralized” more than 100 soldiers of the Syrian regime.
The general staff of the Syrian army has not published its own statistics from the encounter. Syrian government artillery and multiple rocket launchers are known to have attacked Turkish military convoys and firing positions in Idlib and Aleppo. The most severe attacks were directed against a Turkish convoy near Syria’s former Taftanaz airbase (Idlib) and the Turkish stronghold near Atarib (Aleppo).
Turkey’s military command admitted that at least five of its troops had been killed in the attack against Taftanaz, and that the same number had been wounded. Local sources reported that a far greater number of injured soldiers had been evacuated from Taftanaz and taken towards the border with Turkey. There is speculation that Turkey’s real losses are considerably greater than the officially cited figures.
The Syrian government army is conducting an offensive against the Greater Idlib region (the Idlib and Hama governorates, and part of Aleppo and Latakia) amid furious tirades and ultimatums from the Turkish military and political leadership. “Ankara will not let Assad’s forces capture more territories or strengthen its position within the final stronghold of the Syrian armed opposition in Idlib,” said Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on February 4. The Turkish leader gave similar warnings the following day, after eight Turkish soldiers and civilian specialists were killed in Idlib.