Report: Top Russian commander secretly visited Turkey

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Chief of the General Staff of the Armed Forces of Russia and first Deputy Defence Minister Valery Gerasimov (Kremlin Press Center / Handout)

The Russian army’s chief of general staff, Valery Gerasimov, last month secretly visited Turkey two days after Maj. Gen. Mohammad Bagheri, the chief of staff of Iran’s armed forces, paid his first visit to Turkey, Yeniçağ reported on Sunday.

According to the report, during his one-day visit, which was not announced to the media, the Russian commander met with Turkish Chief of General Staff Gen. Hulusi Akar but did not see Prime Minister Binali Yıldırım or President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.

Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu said on Aug. 16 that Gerasimov would visit Turkey to discuss the situation in Syria’s Idlib region, but no further statements were made about his visit.

The visits of Bagheri and Gerasimov came amid tension between the US and Turkey over US support for Kurdish militants in northern Syria who Ankara has declared to be terrorists, and Ankara’s possible operations in the Afrin region, which is controlled by the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG).

The Turkish Foreign Ministry last month slammed remarks by Brett McGurk, the US special presidential envoy for the Global Coalition against ISIL (Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant) for claiming there was a link between Turkey and the presence of al-Qaeda-affiliated groups in Syria’s Idlib province, where Turkey and Russia agreed to deploy troops as part of a de-escalation agreement brokered by Russia in May.

Turkey is also accusing the US of sending truckloads of military equipment to the Syrian Kurdish Democratic Union Party (PYD) and YPG, which Turkey claims is affiliated with the terrorist Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK).

Referring to the US support for the YPG, Çavuşoğlu last month said: “Russia is more empathetic to Turkey’s stance towards the YPG than the US is.”

While the US aid was announced to be for operations against ISIL in Raqqa, the pro-government media claimed that the supplies are intended for an operation against Syrian areas that were taken under control by the Turkish military and Free Syrian Army (FSA) fighters during Operation Euphrates Shield between August 2016 and March 2017.

Deputy Prime Minister and ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) spokesperson Bekir Bozdağ on Aug. 15 said Turkey is ready for all scenarios in Syria: “All troops are on the alert. We will not allow a fait accompli.”

The Yeniçağ report says President Erdoğan’s plan to conduct an operation against the YPG-controlled Afrin region in northern Syria was not welcomed by Moscow or Tehran, in addition to Turkish intelligence and military reports that conditions are not appropriate for the operation.

Military reports recommended only a limited operation against al-Qaeda-linked groups in the İdlib region in coordination with Russia and Syria.

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