Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu (R) and Russian counterpart Sergey Lavrov, Moscow, December 29, 2018
Talks between Russia and Turkey on the conflicts in Syria and Libya have been cancelled at the last minute.
Reports began circulating on social media on Sunday that Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and Defense Minister Sergey Shoygu had called off discussions in Istanbul.
The Turkish Foreign Ministry subsequently said Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu and Lavrov had agreed a postponement in a phone call: “The two countries’ deputy ministers will continue contacts and talks in the period ahead. Minister-level talks will be held at a later date.”
There was no statement from the Russian Foreign Ministry or on Russian State English-language outlets such as Tass and RT.
The abrupt cancellation raised uncertainty about the status of a ceasefire in northwest Syria and the separation of opposition and regime-held territory.
Russia and Turkey agreed the ceasefire for partitioned Idlib Province on March 5, pausing an 11-month Russian-regime offensive that seized almost all of northern Hama Province and part of southern and eastern Idlib. The attacks killed about 2,000 civilians, wounded thousands, and displaced more than a million.
In the past two weeks, Russia has twice broken the agreement with bombing, amid fighting between pro-Assad and anti-Assad forces in the al-Ghab Plain.
Russia consulted Iran, the other essential backer of the regime, last week. The talks followed Moscow’s expression of concern, through Russian State outlets and allies of President Vladimir Putin, about Bashar al-Assad’s handling of the political and economic situations.
Russia and Turkey have been on opposite sides of the conflict in Libya.
Moscow, alongside the UAE and Egypt, has backed the insurgent Libyan National Army of Gen. Khalifa Haftar, and Ankara supports the internationally-recognized Government of National Accord.
There have been signs in recent weeks of Russia drawing down its military support of Haftar, and they were expected to offer the political replacement of the general with Aguila Saleh, the representative of the Tobruk House of Representatives.
But diplomatic sources said Turkey wants Saleh to support GNA head Fayez al-Sarraj, rather than succeeding him.
Talks between Turkey and Iran proceeded in the absence of the Russians.
There were no details of Monday’s discussions between Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif and Çavuşoğlu.
Zarif said, upon arrival on Sunday night, that the discussions would include resumption of trade amid the Coronavirus crisis.
Pressed by long-term problems and US sanctions, the Islamic Republic’s trade with Ankara has fallen by 70%.