Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan meets with his Russian counterpart, Vladimir Putin, as a deadline draws near for Kurdish militants to withdraw from Syria’s northern border areas near Turkey or face a renewed military offensive.
The meeting is right now underway in Russia’s Black Sea resort of Sochi. The two leaders are expected to exchange views on the “developments in Syria, including the normalization of the situation in the country’s northeastern regions,” according a Kremlin statement.
Putin and Erdogan, it added, will also discuss “countering international terrorist groups and promoting the political settlement process, including in the context of the upcoming launch of the Syrian Constitutional Committee.”
Speaking at a forum hosted by broadcaster TRT World in Istanbul on Monday, Erdogan stressed that he “will take the necessary steps” regarding Syria following his talks with Putin.
Turkey launched an offensive in northeastern Syria on October 9 with the aim of purging the region near its border of Kurdish militants, whom it views as terrorists linked to local autonomy-seeking militants of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK).
The incursion came after the US abruptly pulled its forces out of the region, clearing the path for Ankara to go ahead with a planned military action against Washington’s longtime Kurdish allies.
Nine days into the operation, Turkey agreed on October 17 to pause the offensive for 120 hours while the US facilitates the withdrawal of Kurdish militants from a planned 120-kilometer (75-mile) safe zone between the Syrian border towns of Tell Abyad and Ras al-Ayn.
The US-brokered truce is set to expire at 10:00 p.m. local time (1900 GMT) on Tuesday.
Speaking to reporters at the Ankara airport before departing for talks with Putin on Tuesday, Erdogan said Turkey would resume the Syria operation “with greater determination” unless the Kurds’ withdrawal is completed under the ceasefire deal.
“If the promises given to our country by the United States are not kept, we will continue our operation from where we left off with greater determination,” he said.
Turkey’s Syria incursion led the Kurds to reach out to the Damascus government for support, striking an agreement with Syrian troops to enter towns near the border with Turkey.