The Kremlin says Russian President Vladimir Putin is equally concerned about attacks by foreign-backed militants from Syria’s northwestern province of Idlib after his Turkish counterpart Recep Tayyip Erdogan alleged that offensives in the province threaten Turkey’s national security.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov made the comment during a press conference in the capital Moscow on Monday, three days after Erdogan said offensives by the Syrian troops, backed by Russian air cover, were purportedly causing a humanitarian crisis and threatening his country’s national security.
“Putin has repeatedly said he understands the concerns of our Turkish colleagues ... but at the same time the president remains ... concerned about the activation of action by terrorist elements from Idlib that cannot be (left) without being stamped out and destroyed,” Peskov said.
Large parts of Idlib province, home to three million people, and parts of neighboring Hama province constitute the last major militant stronghold in Syria. The Idlib-based militants regularly conduct attacks against Syrian troops, Russia’s bases and civilian districts.
The government troops, supported by Russian airstrikes, are resolute to liberate the province from the grips of militants, who have practically taken the civilians hostage.
On August 5, the Syrian army announced the start of an offensive against foreign-sponsored militants in Idlib after those positioned in the de-escalation zone failed to honor a ceasefire brokered by Russia and Turkey and continued to target civilian neighborhoods.
Moscow, a key ally of Damascus, launched its military campaign against the Daesh Takfiri terrorist group and other terror outfits in the Arab country in September 2015 at the Damascus government’s request. Russia's airstrikes have significantly helped the Syrian forces deal heavy blows to foreign-backed militants operating in the Arab country since 2011.
Idlib offensive does not violate any accord with Turkey: Russian FM
Separately on Monday, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov stressed that Syrian army’s offensive in Idlib, supported by Russian airstrikes, did not violate any agreements with Turkey.
On Friday, the Syrian army officially announced the liberation of the strategic town of Khan Shaykhun south of Idlib along with other localities from the clutches of militants.
Syrian troops already encircled militants and a Turkish military post in northwest Syria. Damascus has repeatedly slammed the presence of Turkish troops in its northern parts.
Turkish soldiers will step in Syria’s safe zone soon: Erdogan
Additionally on Monday, the Turkish president said that his country’s army troops would enter a planned safe zone in northern parts of the Arab country “very soon.”
“We are slowly making progress in our efforts to establish a safe zone,” Erdogan said, adding, “Just like many other issues some saw as untouchable, we are putting the east of the Euphrates issue on track.”
Earlier this month, Turkey and the US agreed to establish a so-called joint operation center for the planned safe zone along Syria’s northeastern border. However, both Ankara and Washington have so far given few details on the size of the zone or the command structure of the forces to operate there.
Turkey has already launched two operations in northern Syria. The first offensive dubbed "Euphrates Shield" began in August 2016 to stop the advance of Kurdish militants.
Then in January 2018, Turkish military forces launched another cross-border military operation inside Syria, code-named “Operation Olive Branch,” with the declared aim of eliminating militants of the People's Protection Units (YPG) from northern Syria, particularly the Afrin region.
Turkey has declared the YPG as a terrorist group and views it as the Syrian branch of the Anatolian country’s homegrown Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), a terrorist group that has been fighting for an autonomous region inside the Anatolian country since 1984.