Russian President Vladimir Putin on Monday praised Iran for its role in helping the Syrian regime in the country’s civil war.
Putin met with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani in Ankara, Turkey, ahead of a trilateral meeting with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan to discuss the situation in Syria. The leaders were seeking to halt fighting in the country’s northwestern province of Idlib and find a lasting political solution to Syria’s civil war, now in its ninth year.
Iran has made a “significant contribution to the elimination of terrorists” and the launch of the “political process in Syria,” Putin told press at the meeting, according to an English translation of his remarks provided by the Interfax News Agency.
Rouhani stressed the importance of Iran-Russia coordination, the report said.
Both Russia and Iran have provided military and political assistance to the Syrian government in its battles against rebel forces.
Israel has warned that Russian-allied Tehran is using the opportunity to gain a military foothold on Syrian territory from which it can attack the Jewish state. Israel has acknowledged carrying out thousands of airstrikes inside Syria against weapons transfers to Iran-backed fighters. Those raids are coordinated with the Russian military to avoid a clash between Moscow and Jerusalem.
Last month, the IDF conducted a series of airstrikes in Syria against a group led by Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, which had been planning to fly kamikaze-style drones carrying explosives into targets in northern Israel.
Monday’s talks are the fifth trilateral meeting among countries that stand on opposing sides of the conflict. Putin and Rouhani are key allies of Syrian President Bashar Assad, while Turkey backs Syrian rebels seeking to oust him.
Putin, Erdogan, and Rouhani held one-on-one meetings ahead of the main summit which was held later in the day.
Topping the agenda of the meeting was the volatile situation in Idlib — the last remaining rebel stronghold in Syria — where a cease-fire went into effect at the end of August, following a wide four-month offensive by government forces.
The cease-fire has been holding despite some violations that left six people dead last week. A major conflict in Idlib has raised the possibility of a mass refugee flow to Turkey, which already hosts 3.6 million Syrian refugees.
Hundreds of thousands of Syrians, some already displaced from other parts of the war-torn country, have moved toward Turkey’s border to flee Syrian airstrikes, backed by Russia.
Erdogan has warned that Turkey could “open its gates” and allow Syrians already living in his country to flood Western countries, if Turkey is left to shoulder the refugee burden alone.
A major offensive was averted last September, when Erdogan and Putin agreed in the Russian resort town of Sochi to set up a demilitarized zone in Idlib and open two major highways. Those plans, as well as a Turkish pledge to tame armed groups in Idlib, dominated by the al-Qaida-linked Hayat Tahrir al-Sham, have largely failed.
Despite divergent interests in Syria, Erdogan and Putin have been building closer ties, having met seven times in 2019 alone. Russia has delivered two batteries of the S-400 surface to air missile systems to Turkey and the two countries are cooperating on energy deals.
The three leaders were also expected to take up Turkish and American plans for a so-called “safe zone” in northeastern Syria, to meet Turkish demands for US-backed Syrian Kurdish forces that Ankara considers terrorists, alleging they have ties to a Kurdish insurgency within Turkey, pushed farther from its border.
Ankara is also lobbying for a plan to resettle displaced Syrians in Turkey-controlled zones across northern Syria.