Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said on Wednesday talks with Russia on the conflict in Syria’s northwestern Idlib province were far from meeting Turkey’s demands and that a military operation there was a “matter of time,” according to Reuters.
Turkey and Russia back opposing sides in the nine-year Syrian conflict but have collaborated towards finding a political solution to end it.
However, a Syrian government offensive in Idlib has upset the fragile cooperation after 13 Turkish troops were killed in Syrian attacks earlier this month.
Ankara has urged Moscow, which backs Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, to stop the attacks in Idlib, saying the offensive was causing a migrant wave towards Turkey, which currently hosts 3.6 million Syrian refugees.
Erdoğan has previously said Turkey may use military force to drive back Syrian forces unless they pull back by the end of the month.
Ankara and Moscow signed an agreement in 2018 to establish a de-escalation zone in Idlib, allowing both sides to also set up military observation posts in the region. Since the escalation of violence, both sides have accused each other of flouting the agreement.
Turkish and Russian officials have held several rounds of talks in Ankara and Moscow. The foreign ministers of Turkey and Russia also met over the weekend but failed to find a solution. Erdoğan has said Turkey has given the Syrian forces until the end of February to withdraw from Idlib.
“We will not leave Idlib to the [Syrian] regime, which does not understand our country’s determination, and its backers,” he said.
A Turkish delegation ended two days of talks with Russian officials in Moscow, and İbrahim Kalın, the spokesman for Turkish president, said both sides agreed to meet again, according to The Associated Press.
“We did not accept the document and map that was presented to us,” Kalın said, adding that Turkey’s position was for a return to the lines laid out under a cease-fire agreement for Idlib in 2018.
Turkey will continue sending in reinforcements “to protect the region and civilians,” Kalın said, adding that Ankara would respond to any attack against its troops “[forcefully], as we have in the past weeks.”
The Russian Foreign Ministry said in a statement that “both sides noted their adherence to the existing agreements that envisage measures to reduce tensions, ease the humanitarian situation and continue the fight against terrorism.”