The Russian government has asked Turkey to explain President Recep Tayyip Erdogan's comments regarding the Turkish military intervention in Syria, where he said that Ankara's aim was to topple the Assad regime from power.
Speaking at the first annual Symposium for Jerusalem held in Istanbul yesterday, Erdogan said that Turkish forces were ordered to intervene in Syria in order to "bring justice. We are there to end the rule of the cruel Assad, who has been spreading state terror."
Turkish forces began an operation dubbed "Euphrates Shield" in August, supporting Syrian opposition fighters in the Free Syrian Army (FSA) to sweep both Daesh and Kurdish PYD separatists from northern Syria and therefore Turkey's southern borders.
Russia, one of Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad's main backers alongside Iran, expressed strong reservations about Erdogan's statements. Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov described Erdogan's comments as "extremely dangerous".
According to Peskov, the Turkish president's remarks "differ from previous statements and our understanding of the situation. We hope that our Turkish partners will furnish us with an explanation regarding this."
Konstantin Kosachev, deputy chairman of the Duma Foreign Affairs Committee, denounced Turkey and said that Erdogan's speech proves that "Turkey's goals in Syria are not completely compatible [with the aim of] counterterrorism…and are not compatible with Russia's vision towards this aim."
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov will tomorrow be in Turkey to speak to his Turkish counterpart Mevlut Cavusoglu, but it is unclear whether they will be discussing these developments.
Turkey will not act militarily to save Aleppo
While there has been discussion on whether Turkey capturing Al-Bab a few kilometres away from east Aleppo may mean Turkish forces will relieve the besieged opposition-held eastern districts, MEMO spoke to Turkish Deputy Prime Minister Numan Kurtulmus last Friday who confirmed that it would not.
"This military operation is not aiming to secure some parts of Aleppo. That is another issue," Kurtulmus said, ending speculation about Turkish motives in northern Syria and dashing the hopes of Syrians hoping for relief from the Assad regime onslaught that is gaining ground.
"The main objectives of the Turkish military operation is to [clear] a 5,000 square kilometres [zone] from terrorist organisations, namely Daesh and PYD. The United States promised Turkey to force PYD forces to go to east of the Euphrates, so our aim is to [clear] this land from Daesh, from PYD."
Turkey considers the PYD to be a sister organisation to the Kurdistan Workers' Party, better known as the PKK. The PKK has waged a decades-long insurgency in Turkey to establish an independent Kurdish state, and has been designated a terrorist organisation by Turkey, the United States and the European Union for using tactics that have led to the deaths of tens of thousands of civilians.
Turkey and Russia have had a tumultuous relationship over the Syrian civil war, now in its sixth year. Last year, Turkey shot down a Russian warplane leading to recriminations between the two Black Sea powers and Moscow slapping sanctions on Ankara.
Ties were largely repaired earlier this year when Erdogan apologised to the families of the dead Russian servicemen, but tensions still remain over the diametrically opposed positions both nations hold on Syria.