Ankara and Damascus hold talks involving defense chiefs, reportedly for the first time in over a decade
Russian Defense Minister Sergey Shoigu met with his Turkish and Syrian counterparts in Moscow on Wednesday. Türkiye’s defense minister held negotiations with Syria’s defense head, reportedly for the first time since 2011.
Hulusi Akar and Ali Mahmud Abbas, representing Ankara and Damascus, respectively, discussed “ways to resolve the Syrian crisis” and “joint efforts to combat extremist groups in Syria,” as well as possible solutions to the refugee problem, the Russian Defense Ministry said in a statement after the meeting.
Both sides said the format was “constructive” and stressed they were interested in continuing the discussions for the sake of stabilizing Syria and the region as a whole, Moscow said.
The agenda was confirmed in a statement issued by the defense ministry in Ankara. Turkish media also noted that this was the first meeting at this level between the neighboring countries since the Syrian conflict began 11 years ago.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan severed diplomatic relations with Syria in March 2012. In October of last year, the foreign ministers of the two countries met at the Non-Aligned Movement summit in Serbia, where it was revealed that their respective intelligence agencies had resumed communications.
The Moscow meeting comes just days after Akar revealed he had been negotiating with Moscow over the use of Syrian airspace for Türkiye’s ‘Operation Claw-Sword,’ a campaign of air and artillery strikes on the Kurdish militias in northern Syria.
Ankara considers the US-backed Kurdish militants to be terrorists allied with the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which it blamed for the mid-November suicide bombing in Istanbul that killed six people and wounded 81 more.
A much bigger bone of contention between the neighboring countries is Türkiye’s backing for Syrian rebels that have sought to overthrow the government in Damascus. The remnants of the rebellion, largely defeated by the Syrian Army with Russia’s support, have fallen back to Idlib province in Syria’s northwest.