MOSCOW – Russia’s foreign minister hosted his counterparts from Turkey, Syria, and Iran on Wednesday for discussions that represented the highest-level communication between Ankara and Damascus since the Syrian civil war began over a decade ago.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov expressed hope in his opening remarks that the meeting would pave the way for the development of a road map for mending Turkish-Syrian relations.
Lavrov views Moscow’s role as “not only consolidating politically the progress that has been made, but also determining general guidelines for further movement.”
Russia has spent years attempting to assist Syrian President Bashar Assad in repairing ties with Turkey and other nations shattered by the conflict, which killed about 500,000 people and displaced half of Syria’s prewar population of 23 million.
Russia intervened militarily in Syria in September 2015, joining forces with Iran to assist Assad’s government in reclaiming the majority of the nation. Moscow has maintained a military presence in the Mideast country despite the fact that the majority of its personnel are engaged in war in Ukraine.
Turkiye has supported armed opposition organizations aiming to depose Assad during the 12-year conflict.
The Syrian government has often criticized Ankara’s control of a northwest region previously held by Assad’s opponents. Since 2016, Turkiye has taken the land following a series of military operations against US-backed Kurdish forces.
The efforts toward Turkish-Syrian reconciliation come at a time when Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is under great domestic pressure to return Syrian refugees amid a severe economic downturn and rising anti-refugee sentiment. He will run for re-election on Sunday, when Turkiye will also hold presidential and legislative elections.
Syrian state media quoted Foreign Minister Faisal Mekdad as saying during the meeting on Wednesday that Syria and Turkiye “share common goals and interests.” He stated that “despite all the negatives over the past years,” Damascus sees the discussions as an opportunity “for both governments to cooperate with the help and support of our friends Russia and Iran.”
Mekdad went on to say that the Syrian government’s “main goal” was to eliminate any “illegal” military presences in the country, including Turkish personnel.
“We will continue to demand and insist on the subject of withdrawal,” he said.
Following the February earthquake that killed tens of thousands of people in Syria and Turkey, regional normalization with Damascus accelerated.
In April, Moscow hosted Turkey’s, Syria’s, and Iran’s defense ministers for discussions aimed at “practical steps to strengthen security in the Syrian Arab Republic and normalize Syrian-Turkish relations.”
Separately, the Arab League agreed on Sunday to re-establish Syria, breaking a 12-year ban imposed after Assad’s deadly assault on initially peaceful pro-democracy protesters in 2011.