Turkey and Russia will continue to coordinate on diplomatic and military lines to fully normalize the situation in Syria, the country's Foreign Ministry spokesperson Maria Zakharova said Thursday.
The Syrian settlement traditionally occupies one of the central places in dialogues between Moscow and Ankara, Zakharova told a news conference in Moscow.
She said: "In particular, we are talking about the northeast of the country, the province of Idlib" – the last major opposition bastion of war-torn Syria.
The situation in Idlib was most recently discussed between the two countries during a visit by President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan to the Russian Black Sea resort Sochi where he met with President Vladimir Putin. It was the two leaders' first face-to-face talks in 18 months.
Writing on Twitter, Erdoğan called the talks "productive."
Russia is the main ally of the Syrian regime, while Turkey supports groups that have fought to unseat Bashar Assad. However, Russian and Turkish troops have cooperated in Idlib, the final holdout of opposition forces, and in seeking a political solution in the war-torn country.
Russia joined Syria’s now 10-year conflict in September 2015, when the regime military appeared close to collapse. Moscow has since helped in tipping the balance of power in favor of Assad, whose forces now control much of the country. Hundreds of Russian troops are deployed across Syria, and the country also has a military air base along Syria’s Mediterranean coast.
During the past few years, Russian warplanes targeted the areas under the control of the Syrian opposition, initially launching attacks from Hemeimeem Air Base in the west of the country.
Human rights organizations have published several reports accusing Russia of the death of tens of thousands of civilians in Syria since its intervention in 2015, while the international community has taken some actions against the Russia-backed Assad regime’s war crimes.
The Idlib region is home to nearly 3 million people, two-thirds of them displaced from other parts of the country.
The Idlib de-escalation zone was forged under an agreement between Turkey and Russia. The area has been the subject of multiple cease-fire agreements, which have been frequently violated by the Assad regime and its allies.
Zakharova recalled that both countries are initiators and members of the Astana format (talks aimed to end Syrian crisis), stressing that they "are firmly determined to continue contributing to the advancement of the political process in Syria" on the basis of U.N. Security Council Resolution 2254.
She welcomed "the beginning of humanitarian supplies to Idlib through the line of contact in accordance with U.N. Security Council Resolution 2585 and the norms of international humanitarian law."
Talks on drafting a constitution for Syria will reconvene in October in Geneva, the United Nations special envoy for the country Geir Pedersen said recently, underlining that front lines having been largely frozen for the past 18 months provides a new opportunity.
After the failure of the five previous meetings of the Syrian regime, opposition and civil society representatives, Pedersen told the U.N. Security Council: “We should all now expect the constitutional committee to begin to work seriously on a process of drafting – not just preparing – a constitutional reform.”
“If it does that, then we will have a different and credible constitutional process,” he said. Pedersen said the 45-member drafting committee will meet in Geneva starting Oct. 18, and the co-chairs from the regime and opposition will for the first time meet with him the day before to prepare the session.
The last round of talks ended in January without progress. Pedersen said that after eight months of talks he was pleased to announce an agreement on “methodology” for a sixth round. It’s based on three pillars: respect for rules of procedure, the submission of texts of “basic constitutional principles” ahead of the meeting and regular meetings of the co-chairs with him before and during the meeting.
“The co-chairs are also committed to setting provisional dates for future meetings and discussing a work plan,” he said.
Syria’s nearly 10-year conflict has killed more than half a million people and displaced half the country’s pre-war 23 million population, including more than 5 million refugees mostly living in neighboring countries.
At a Russia-hosted Syrian peace conference in January 2018, an agreement was reached to form a 150-member committee to draft a new constitution. It took until September 2019 before a committee was formed.
The United Nations continues to emphasize the importance of a negotiated political solution to the Syria conflict as called for in a December 2015 Security Council resolution. It unanimously endorsed a road map to peace approved in Geneva on June 30, 2012, by representatives of the U.N., Arab League, European Union, Turkey and all five permanent Security Council members.
It calls for the drafting of a new constitution and ends with U.N.-supervised elections with all Syrians, including members of the diaspora, eligible to participate.
After the fifth round of negotiations failed in late January, Pedersen hinted the Syrian regime delegation was to blame for the lack of progress.
"It is clear from all our engagements that trust is low – but it is also clear ... that common interests do exist, that things are not static, and that there is every reason to try now to build a more effective political effort," Pedersen pointed out.
The United States and several Western allies accused Bashar Assad of deliberately stalling and delaying the drafting of a new constitution until after presidential elections to avoid a U.N.-supervised vote, as called for by the Security Council.
In late May, Assad was reelected in what the regime called a landslide for a fourth seven-year term, but the West and his opposition described the election as illegitimate and a sham.