Meeting between Erdogan and Putin with the Syrian conflict on the table

The Turkish and Russian leaders held a three-hour meeting to try to bring the Syrian situation back on track


Turkey has been working for some time to put an end to a migration crisis that is causing great concern in its society. The incessant waves of people coming from Syria have pushed the situation to the limit, and Recep Tayyip Erdogan's government intends to put an end to it as soon as possible. For this reason, despite a planned meeting with President Vladimir Putin, the Turkish leader sent troops to Idlib a week before the meeting with the Russian leader, without waiting for a negotiation that both have described as "positive".


In the midst of accusations between the two executives over the violation of the ceasefire agreement, Erdogan and Putin held their first meeting after the arrival of the COVID-19 pandemic. The first item on the agenda was the conflict in Syria, which is keeping the Turks and Russians at loggerheads. While the Russian government supports the Damascus regime led by Bashar al-Assad, Ankara maintains its support for the rebel militias. Turkey decided to send troops just a week ago as a reinforcement measure in the Idlib region, in the north of the country, since, according to Erdogan's side, they are suffering an increase in bombing by Russia.

From the Russian side, of course, they return the accusation to Turkey and claim to be using force in Idlib by virtue of UN Security Council Resolution 2254. This resolution stipulates combating terrorism throughout Syrian territory. Russia's own foreign minister, Sergey Lavrov, has defended his country's offensives, arguing that they would not "allow terrorists to leave the Idlib de-escalation zone".


However, the meeting between Erdogan and Putin seems to have calmed the situation, at least in the short term. The Turkish president said on his Twitter account that the conversation with his Russian counterpart had been "productive", although he declined to elaborate. Vladimir Putin, for his part, described the meeting as "useful and substantial", although he had warned hours earlier that talks between Moscow and Ankara "are sometimes not easy". According to the Russian president, they were able at this meeting to "find compromises that benefit" both countries, so some change is expected on Syrian soil to ease the tension that has been escalating over the last few weeks.


Despite their clear differences over Syria, the reality is that Russia and Turkey are on the same page on other vital issues. On the arms front, Ankara has recently moved much closer to Moscow, even bringing it into the sights of its NATO allies. The purchase of a second batch of Russian s-400 anti-missile systems will result in new sanctions from the US, as they did with the purchase of the first batch. However, Turkey, through its president, has assured that it will go ahead despite the pressure exerted by Washington to halt the agreement with Vladimir Putin.

The arrival of AUKUS is another factor that has hit the credibility of a faltering NATO that many have long since disbelieved in. France's displeasure at the breakdown of the agreement to sell powered submarines to Australia worth around 50 billion euros is just one sign of the weakness the organisation could be facing. In fact, Paris is inviting the country presided over by Joe Biden to set aside defence tasks and focus on developing a common strategy throughout Europe, regardless of what the Americans do.

Precisely for this reason, Turkey is turning a deaf ear to the warnings coming from the White House. Ankara firmly believes that "no one can interfere with that. We are the only ones to make such decisions', in reference to the acquisition of Russian defence systems. Moreover, the US denies Turkey's claim that it had no choice within NATO, asserting that "Turkey has had multiple opportunities over the past decade to purchase the US Patriot defence system, and instead chose to purchase the S-400, which provides Russia with revenue, access and influence", according to Pentagon spokesman John Kirby.

Turkey's situation is tremendously complex at this point. Their increasingly close alignment with Russia appears to be alienating them from NATO, but they cannot let go of their position on Syria which, despite progress in negotiations, keeps them at odds with Moscow. At the same time, the US is pressuring Ankara not to sign up to the purchase of the s-400 systems, which the Americans see as a threat to their F-35 aircraft. Erdogan is putting his country in a compromising position - which is nothing new either - and if he follows his roadmap, Turkey will again face US sanctions like those applied in December last year.