Turkey not at odds with Russia over Afrin operation: Cavusoglu

Turkish army tanks gather close to the Syrian border at Hassa, in Hatay Province on January 21, 2018. (Photo by AFP)
Turkish army tanks gather close to the Syrian border at Hassa, in Hatay Province on January 21, 2018. (Photo by AFP)

Turkey says it has no disagreements with Russia over its military operation underway against US-backed Kurdish militants in the northern Syrian region of Afrin.

Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu was speaking to TGRT Haber on Tuesday in response to a question whether there were tensions between Ankara and Moscow over ‘Operation Olive Branch,’ the codename for Turkey’s aerial and ground attacks in Afrin.

He said, “We do not have any disagreements with Russia. We continue our contacts with Russia,” which has been conducting an aerial campaign against terror groups in Syria at the request of Damascus.

“We need to inform each other in a timely manner, especially [regarding] air strikes and the developments in the field. We contact them in real time or in advance,” the premier added.

Ankara launched the Afrin operation some two weeks ago after the US said it would work with Kurdish militants to set up a 30,000-strong border force near Turkey.

Turkish soldiers are deployed on Mount Bersaya, north of the Syrian town of Azaz near the border with Turkey, January 29, 2018 during Turkey’s operation against Kurdish militants in northern Syria. (Photo by AFP)

Shortly after the operation was launched, Moscow voiced concern about the Turkish attacks, calling on the sides to exercise restraint. The Russian Foreign Ministry also said the country’s troops had been withdrawn from the operation zone to “prevent potential” provocation.

Turkey views those militants as terrorists linked to the homegrown Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which has been fighting for independence for decades.

The ‘Operation Olive Branch’ is currently focused on the Afrin region, but Turkey has said it could extend to the nearby Kurdish-controlled city of Manbij and beyond.

Ankara has warned the US to halt its support for the militants of the so-called Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) or risk confronting Turkish forces on the ground in Syria.

Syria has slammed both Turkish and American military activities in the Arab country as a violation of its sovereignty, repeatedly calling on both actors to leave its soil.

Iran has also voiced opposition to the Turkish military operation in Syria, with President Hassan Rouhani saying on Tuesday that Ankara does not “have the permission of the [Syrian] government…and the consent of the people” for such an offensive.

Elsewhere, Cavusoglu also said Turkish forces had finished building a sixth observation point in Syria’s northwestern Idlib Province as part of an agreement with the other two guarantors of the Syria ceasefire, Iran and Russia.

Early last year, Turkey, which has been backing anti-Damascus militants, as well as Russia and Iran, which side with the Syrian government, began moderating talks between the government and opposition in the Kazakh capital of Astana.

The talks led to the demarcation of four de-escalation zones across the Arab country, which has been fighting foreign-backed militancy since 2011.

Idlib houses one of the zones. Turkey has agreed to set up 12 observation posts in Idlib and neighboring provinces.

‘Regular tripartite contact over Syria’

In another development on Wednesday, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Russian President Vladimir Putin and his Turkish and Iranian counterparts Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Hassan Rouhani were in regular contact to discuss the conflict in Syria, Reuters reported.

He added that the statesmen “do not rule out the possibility of an in-person meeting on the topic, though no plans are currently in place.”

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