This article was originally published by Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and is reprinted with permission.
Russian President Vladimir Putin and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan are to hold talks in Moscow on January 23, with Turkey saying the meeting will focus on Ankara’s proposed “security zone” in northern Syria.
A Kremlin statement ahead of the talks said Putin and Erdogan “will discuss the settlement process in Syria as well as key aspects of bilateral cooperation in trade, the economy, culture, and humanitarian area.”
Russia and Turkey are on opposite sides of the conflict.
Russia provides critical support to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s government, while Turkey has backed opposition fighters who are battling against Syrian government forces.
But Russia and Turkey agreed to coordinate ground operations in Syria after U.S. President Donald Trump’s surprise announcement in December that he would withdraw some 2,000 U.S. troops out of Syria.
On January 21, Erdogan said he would talk with Putin about the creation of a Turkish-controlled “security zone” in northern Syria.
U.S.-allied Syrian Kurds who control much of northern Syria have rejected the idea.
They fear a Turkish military offensive against territory under their control – an offensive threatened by Erdogan, who charges that the Syrian Kurds are linked with Kurdish terrorists in Turkey.
Syrian Kurdish forces, exposed by Trump’s pledge to withdraw U.S. troops, recently asked the Syrian government for help against the threatened Turkish offensive and have opened the gates to Manbij, the key northern city under Kurdish control.
The Kremlin has welcomed the recent entry of Assad’s forces into Manbij for the first time in six years.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov last week rejected the idea of Turkish military forces across northern Syria, saying Damascus must take control of the country’s north.