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Putin, Erdogan meet for third time in less than a month

This file photo taken on September 28, 2017 shows Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan (R) and Russian President Vladimir Putin (L) arriving to address a joint press conference following their meeting at the Presidential Complex in Ankara. Russian President Vladimir Putin will visit Turkey next week for talks with his counterpart Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Syria and the United States' recognition of Jerusalem as Israel's capital, the Turkish presidency said in a statement on December 8, 2017. (AFP)
ANKARA: Russian President Vladimir Putin visited Ankara on Monday at the invitation of his Turkish counterpart Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
Hours before the visit, Putin ordered the start of the withdrawal of Russian forces from Syria, saying Moscow and Damascus had achieved their aim of defeating Daesh within two years.
The Turkish presidential spokesperson said Erdogan and Putin discussed the latest regional and global developments, including US recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and the situation in Syria.
The two leaders had a phone conversation the day after the US announcement on Jerusalem. Putin reportedly told Erdogan that he will follow the issue at the UN Security Council, where Russia has a permanent seat.
On Tuesday, an emergency summit of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) will be convened in Istanbul under Turkey’s chairmanship, during which participant countries will draw up a roadmap for the Jerusalem crisis.
This is the third face-to-face meeting between Erdogan and Putin in less than a month. Last week, footage of a senior Russian commander posing with a spokesman of the Syrian-Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) in front of the group’s flag enraged Turkey.
Emre Ersen, a Syria analyst at Marmara University in Istanbul, said the fact that this is the seventh Putin-Erdogan meeting in a year shows the significance of the strategic dialogue between Turkey and Russia regarding the Middle East.
“Turkey is trying to lead diplomatic efforts in the region against the US decision on Jerusalem,” Ersen told Arab News.
“The timing of Putin’s visit is interesting in this regard, as it takes place only a day before the OIC meeting.”
Moscow views the Jerusalem crisis as yet another opportunity to increase its influence in the Middle East, Ersen added.
“Putin’s approach regarding Jerusalem is to launch a new diplomatic process based on recognition of the eastern part of the city as the capital of Palestine,” Ersen said.
Given the very good political and economic relations between Russia and Israel, he said he does not expect as harsh a tone from Moscow as from Ankara when it comes to criticizing the Israeli government about Jerusalem.
Russia’s Syrian National Dialogue Congress initiative is another point of contention between Moscow and Ankara, and is likely to dominate the agenda of Putin’s visit.
Turkey strongly rejects the participation of the YPG and its political wing, the Democratic Union Party (PYD).
“Ankara hopes to extend its military cooperation with Russia and Iran to the (Syria) region of Afrin, which is currently under the control of the PYD/YPG,” Ersen said.
While the major reason for Turkey’s rapprochement with Russia and Iran in Syria was its disappointment with US military support for the PYD/YPG, all the parties are now preparing for a post-Daesh Syria, he added.
The US seems to have started reconsidering its military support for the PYD/YPG, as shown by recent statements from senior American officials, he said.
“Both Washington and Moscow are aware that they need to appease Turkey regarding the PYD/YPG in order to pull Ankara to their side in Syria,” Ersen said.
Putin’s visit coincides with those of Curtis Scaparrotti, supreme allied commander Europe of NATO allied command operations, and Gen. Joseph Votel, commander of US Central Command.
“Since the next stage of the conflict in Syria will deal with terrorism in Idlib province and the Kurdish entity, where Ankara’s interests are directly at play, an increased number of high-level meetings between Russian and Turkish officials makes sense,” Timur Akhmetov, a researcher at the Russian International Affairs Council, told Arab News.
“The high degree of uncertainty and unpredictability of the conflict compels Russia to synchronize its actions with regional stakeholders.”
Following the withdrawal of Russian forces from Syria, Moscow will most probably ask Ankara to continue its efforts to separate moderate Syrian rebel factions from jihadist groups, Akhmetov said.

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