Defence ministers meet amid calls from Moscow for Ankara to do more to remove hard-line fighters from the province.
Russia and Turkey agreed to stabilise Syria’s Idlib using “decisive measures” as hardcore fighters continue to seize control of the northwestern province along Turkey’s border.
A joint statement on Monday didn’t specify what military moves would be taken or when, however, after talks between Russian Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu and his Turkish counterpart Hulusi Akar in Ankara.
Turkey, which backs moderate Syrian rebels, and Russia – the Syrian government’s principal foreign ally – agreed in September to create a demilitarised zone in Idlib, which would be evacuated of all heavy weapons and hard-line combatants.
Ankara pledged to disarm and remove the Hay’et Tahrir al-Sham armed group that dominates and continues to expand its reach in the region.
In return, the Russian-backed Syrian government said it would hold off launching a major military operation to wipe out the group once affiliated with al-Qaeda.
A massive assault could lead to large-scale civilian casualties and a refugee exodus into Turkey.
Monday’s statement was released amid calls from Moscow for Ankara to do more to fulfill the deal ahead of a Syria summit between the leaders of Turkey, Russia and Iran in Russia on Thursday.
Russian foreign ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said last week the situation in Idlib was rapidly deteriorating and Hay’et Tahrir al-Sham was trying to take the entire area militarily.
Monday’s joint statement, as reported by Russia’s RIA Novosti news agency, spoke of “the need in particular to take decisive measures to ensure security in the Idlib demilitarised zone”.
“Despite provocations, we underlined the importance and need to continue partnerships between our two countries’ intelligence and military forces to establish peace and to support stability in Idlib,” it said.
Turkey’s Akar said after the meeting: “Turkey is talking with Russia at all levels to restore peace and stability in the region and protect interests of both countries.”
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said last month “terrorist” groups were operating in about 70 percent of the demilitarised zone in Idlib, which he said went against the September deal.
Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu earlier this year said Moscow had floated the idea of Russia and Turkey mounting a joint operation to push hard-line fighters out of Idlib, but did not say how Ankara felt about the idea.
The cooperation between Russia, Turkey and Iran in the eight-year Syrian conflict led to the establishment of “de-escalation” zones in various parts of the country, which they say decreased the ongoing violence.
Syria’s complex war has killed hundreds of thousands of people and displaced millions since it started in March 2011 with the brutal repression of anti-government protests by the government of Bashir al-Assad.
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