PHOTO: Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan with Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin (Osman Orsal/Reuters)
Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has declared that reconciliation with Russia, including over Syria’s crisis, will be part of an expanding “circle of peace” in the region.
In a message on Monday marking the end of Ramadan, Erdoğan also spoke of restored ties with Israel, following years of tension over the Israeli-Palestinian conflict:
We will make it through this process of global transformation and end up much stronger. We are improving our relations with Israel and Russia … We are mending the strained relations again and overcoming crises triggered by the Syrian issue, terror and artificial tensions.
Turkey and Russia have been on opposite sides throughout Syria’s civil war, with Ankara backing the opposition and rebels and Moscow providing essential assistance to prop up the Assad regime. Last November, relations were close to breaking point after Turkish jets shot down a Russian warplane near the Turkish-Syrian border.
But last week Erdoğan apologized in a note to Russian President Vladimir Putin for the incident, following up with a phone call. The two countries began restoring trade and tourism. Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu met Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov, and an Erdoğan-Putin meeting was promised in the near-future.
Erdoğan said on Tuesday:
We are removing the barriers in our path one by one. While leaving behind crises in international relations and the war on terror, we are at the same time finalizing mega-projects that will carry Turkey to the future.
The President put emphasis on “terrorism”, a line that would help the reconciliation with Moscow through a focus in Syria on the Islamic State, which has carried out bombings killing scores of people in Turkey:
At this time when the Muslim world is celebrating Eid, there are also brothers and sisters who are experiencing various troubles in different regions ranging from Afghanistan to Syria. In our country as well, unfortunately the joy of Eid has been overshadowed by terror attacks.<'blockquote>
Erdoğan also pointed to an accommodation by focusing on a political resolution rather than his long-held declaration that President Assad must be removed from power:
We have done and are doing anything we can by supporting efforts aimed at bringing a just solution to the crisis in Syria, and by lending a helping hand to our brothers and sisters who have fled Iraq and Syria and taken shelter in our country.
Normalization in Syria Possible
Prime Minister Binali Yıldırım echoed Erdoğan’s message after Monday’s Cabinet meeting:
We are expanding the circle of friendship, strengthening the circle of peace around us in order to raise Turkey’s credibility.
We are resolute about further developing our realistic, friendly and peaceful relationships – from Russia to Israel, Egypt to Syria, Iraq to Iran, and EU countries to the United States. We will continue to do so.
Yıldırım said the situation in Syria was “unsustainable”: “The normalization of Syria is possible but everybody should make sacrifices for this. Our strategic partners and coalition partners should heal the bleeding wound in Syria and take more responsibility.”
However, the Prime Minister went beyond Erdoğan in maintaining the call for President Assad’s departure. He said there would be no immediate meeting with regime official:
The oppression should first end. The dictatorial regime should end. What will you agree on with a regime that has killed more than a half million of its people without blinking an eye? Everybody already agrees on this.
Turkey Denies Russia Will Use Incirlik Airbase
Russian State media went as far on Tuesday as to declare that Ankara will allow Russian warplanes to use Incirlik airbase, in southern Turkey, for bombing of the Islamic State in Syria. According to TASS, Foreign Minister Cavusoglu said:
We’ll cooperate with all who is fighting against the Islamic State. We have opened the Incirlik base for all who want to join the active fight. Why not cooperate with Russia in this way?
However, Cavusoglu denied he made the offer: “We said that we could cooperate with Russia in the period ahead in the fight against Daesh [Islamic State]….I did not make any comment referring to Russian planes coming to the Incirlik Air Base.”
The Kremlin also stepped back from the report, with spokesman Dmitri Peskov saying that there had been no official talks.
Battlefield Situation North of Aleppo Still Unclear
The situation on the frontline north of Aleppo city is still unclear, more than four days after the launch of the latest assault by the Syrian military and allied foreign militia.
The Syrian Army has not issued an update since its claim early Monday that it has taken the northern area of the al-Mallah Farms and part of the southern section. Pro-regime accounts continue to declare that “65%” of the Farms have been taken, although the pro-Assad offensive, including the elite Tiger Forces, was unable to hold territory in the south and have faced a rebel counter-offensive.
Pro-opposition outlets say that pro-Assad forces initially gained ground as rebels retreated under Russian airstrikes; however, they assert that the rebels soon counter-attacked, re-establishing their control over the disputed areas.
The Syrian military and its allies, enabled by Russian bombing, have tried for months to close off the last main route into opposition-held areas of Aleppo, but have been repeatedly pushed back. Before the latest offensive, several attempts to advance into al-Mallah and near Handarat were foiled in June.