Erdogan vows 'more steps' in Syria once he has met Putin
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan signalled on Monday that his upcoming meeting with Russia's Vladimir Putin in Sochi would be crucial in determining the next steps in the Turkish offensive in northeast Syria.
“As you know we halted our operations for 120 hours. I will travel to Russia’s Sochi to meet President Putin and will discuss the situation,” Erdogan told an audience at TRT World Forum in istanbul. “We will take the necessary steps following this meeting."
The deadline of 120 hours ends on Tuesday night, the same day Erdogan visits Russia.
Earlier this month, Ankara launched an offensive in Kurdish-held northeastern Syria, with the stated aim of pushing the People's Protection Units (YPG) militia from the Turkish-Syrian border and creating a buffer zone.
Previously, Turkish officials said the buffer zone would stretch from the Syrian city of Manbij to the Iraqi border.
However, this plan was disrupted following the YPG’s decision to sign a deal with the Syrian government, a close Russian ally, to fend off Turkish operations against Kurdish-held towns and cities.
Last week, Syrian government soldiers and Russian special forces were deployed to cities like Manbij and Kobane. Syrian government flags along with YPG ones became visible to Turks on the other side of the border.
Erdogan previously said he would seek a settlement with Putin on the Syrian cities of Qamishli, Manbij and Kobane, but warned that he would still follow through with his plans if he cannot reach an understanding with Moscow.
Speaking at the same forum, Turkish Defence Minister Hulusi Akar said Ankara's final aim was to create a 444km-long "safe zone".
“In order to achieve this objective, we are negotiating with both the US and Russia for different parts of the zone,” he said.
Outside of Turkey, Ankara's operation has faced fierce criticism, and the controversy hit the TRT World Forum too.
Former Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and the well-known Greek economist Yanis Varoufakis pulled out from the forum in protest at the Turkish offensive.
Erdogan, in his speech, criticised the speakers who decided to abandon the programme.
“I think the people who decided not to speak over here to protest Turkey’s Operation Peace Spring to clear the area from terrorism, couldn’t digest democracy. And they are supporting terrorism,” he said.