The presidents of Russia, Turkey, and Iran — Vladimir Putin, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, and Hassan Rouhani — will confer in Ankara on Wednesday about the Syrian conflict.
The summit comes as Russia — in violation of “de-escalation zones” agreed between the three countries last year — enables pro-Assad forces to take over East Ghouta near Damascus.
Meanwhile, Turkey has moved alongside rebels to capture almost all of the Kurdish canton of Afrin in northwest Syria.
At the same time, Turkish forces are setting up a ring of observation posts around opposition-held Idlib and northern Hama Provinces, preventing a further advance of a pro-Assad offensive supported by Russian airstrikes.
But despite the Turkish presence, Russian and regime warplanes have continued to bomb the area, with an escalation of attacks this week.
The maneuvers have been seen as part of an ongoing deal between Turkey and Russia since their reconciliation in August 2016, with Ankara — a leading backer of the opposition since the Syrian rising began in March 2011 — accepting the Russian and Iranian support of the Assad regime’s takeover of Aleppo city and areas in the south. In return, Russia has acceded to the Turkish military intervention in the northwest.
Erdoğan, Putin Discuss Missiles, Nuclear Energy
In bilateral discussions on Tuesday, Erdoğan and Putin announced that Moscow will speed up delivery of advanced S-400 air defense missile systems to Ankara.
“We are speeding up production, and we have finalized the prices, which is very important,” Putin said. “In terms of shortening the delivery schedule, we have done this at the request of our Turkish friends and partners.”
Erdoğan knocked back Western countries who have criticized the deal: “This issue is now closed.”
Russian officials said in December that the first deliveries in the $2 billion deal were likely to begin at the end of 2019 or beginning of 2020.
Putin did not give a revised delivery date, but said that there were “no political or strategic limitations” on technology-sharing which could lead to Turkey producing its own version of the S-400.
Earlier in the day, the two leaders launched the construction of Turkey’s first nuclear power plant, located in Mersin Province in the south of the country, with a ceremony in Ankara.
The Akkuyu power station, costing more than $20 billion, was started in February 2015 but put on hold after Turkish-Russian relations were at breaking point in November 2015, following Ankara’s downing of a Russian Su-24 jet en route to attacking opposition targets in Syria.
The power station will provide 10% of the electricity needs of Turkey The first stage is due to come online in 2023, and the complex will be completed in 2026.
Kremlin: We’ll Get Money From Syrian Diaspora for Reconstruction
Facing a colossal task of reconstruction of Syria after seven years of destruction, the Kremlin has said the Syrian diaspora can help provide the funds.
Vladimir Putin’s envoy for Syria, Alexander Lavrentyev, said in Ankara on Tuesday:
“There are funds. Yes, it will be more difficult, the process will take more time, but, nevertheless, this process is irreversible.”
He maintained that “many countries are ready to support Syria’s return to normal life” and then turned to the diaspora:
“One should also take into account the Syrian themselves – those who live abroad in various countries.”
Syria has lost more than 75% of its GDP and faces hundreds of billions of dollar of damage. Western countries have indicated their reluctance to commit to large-scale reconstruction while Bashar al-Assad is still in power.
But Lavrentyev insisted on Tuesday that the reconstruction of Syria’s largest city Aleppo is an example — even though little of the eastern part, held by the opposition from 2012 until December 2016, has been repaired after reoccupation by pro-Assad forces.
US Military Continue Pushback v. Trump: Troops Are Staying
US military commanders are continuing to rebuff Donald Trump’s declarations that American troops will soon leave Syria.
Gen. Joseph Votel, head of U.S. Central Command, said at a conference in Washington on Tuesday, “A lot of very good military progress has been made over the last couple of years, but the hard part, I think, is in front of us.” He cited the military’s role in “stabilizing [Syria], consolidating gains, [and] addressing long-term issues of reconstruction” after the defeat of the Islamic State.
Meanwhile, Trump was reporting at a White House news conference, “I want to get out. I want to bring our troops back home.”
He continued that the US has received “nothing out of $7 trillion in the Middle East over the last 17 years”: “So, it’s time. It’s time. We were very successful against ISIS. But sometimes it’s time to come back home, and we’re thinking about that very seriously, okay?”
Trump confirmed that he had asked the Saudis for money:
Trump says he told Saudi Arabia they may have to pay to keep US troops in Syria: “I want to get out, I want to bring our troops back home” pic.twitter.com/wMu7zlR8JO
— BuzzFeed News (@BuzzFeedNews) April 3, 2018
Trump has been telling advisors for weeks that he wanted a withdrawal. He asked Saudi Arabia’s King Salman for $4 billion to cover the departure, with the money used for the stabilization efforts in northern Syria.
Last Thursday, Trump said in a speech in Ohio, “We’ll be coming out of Syria like very soon. Let the other people take care of it now.”
The Pentagon responded by leaking to the media that, far from departing Syria, plans are being made for the deployment of dozens more troops.
However, Trump has put down another marker by ordering a freeze on $200 million of US funds for stabilization and reconstruction efforts in areas such as the city of Raqqa, taken from ISIS in October 2017.