Russian President Vladimir Putin, right, and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan shake hands prior to their talks at the Kremlin in Moscow, Russia, Thursday, March 5, 2020. The Turkish and Russian leaders are set to hold talks in Moscow aimed at avoiding pitting their nations against each other, during hostilities in northwestern Syria.(AP Photo/Pavel Golovkin, Pool)

MOSCOW, March 5. /TASS/. Russian President Vladimir Putin said at a meeting with his Turkish counterpart Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Thursday that a face-to-face meeting was necessary amid the escalation in Idlib.

“We always have something to talk about, but now the situation in the Idlib zone has escalated so much that this requires our face-to-face conversation,” the Russian leader said opening the Russian-Turkish talks.

According to Russia’s president, the situation in Idlib must be discussed so that it does not ruin Russian-Turkish relations. “We must definitely discuss everything, the entire situation we have today, so that similar things […] never happen again and so that […] it does not destroy the Russian-Turkish relations, which we — and I know that you too — treat carefully and prize highly,” Putin stated.

Vladimir Putin reiterated his condolences over the death of Turkish troops in Syria to Recep Tayyip Erdogan, noting that the Syrian Army had been unaware of the Turkish forces’ location. “I would like to reiterate my deepest condolences over the death of your troops in Syria,” Putin addressed Erdogan. The Russian president added that “the loss of human life is always a tragedy.” “Unfortunately, as I told you before in a phone call, no one, including the Syrian troops, was aware of their [Turkish military] location,” Putin said. He added that Syrian troops had likewise sustained losses recently.

Putin thanked Erdogan for finding the opportinity to travel to Moscow to hold the meeting. He noted that the conversation would begin in private, as the Turkish leader had asked, and later, if necessary, the two countries’ delegations would join it.

Russia, Turkey and Iran signed a memorandum, according to which the Idlib province became part of one of the four de-escalation zones in Syria, in May 2017. In September 2018, the Russian and Turkish presidents reached an agreement to set up a demilitarized zone in that province along the line of engagement of Syrian government forces and the armed opposition. Despite the agreements, extremists were not withdrawn from Idlib and continued to shell government forces’ positions. Since then, the situation in the region has deteriorated several times, including at the beginning of 2020.

The situation in Idlib deteriorated dramatically once again on February 27 when, according to the Russian Defense Ministry, militants attempted to launch a major offensive. The Syrian military carried out a strike against them, which, according to Ankara, killed more than 30 Turkish soldiers. Later in the day, Ankara launched a new military operation in Syria dubbed Spring Shield against Syrian forces.

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