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Turkey and Russia ministers meet ahead of US withdrawal from Syria

Russian military and political leaders are meeting Turkish officials [Getty]

Date of publication: 29 December, 2018

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A race for control of key Syrian cities is taking place.
Key Russian and Turkish ministers met in Moscow on Saturday, to discuss the tense situation in northern Syria where a power vacuum has emerged with the planned withdrawal of US forces.

Turkey has threatened to launch a military offensive against US-backed Kurdish forces, who control much of northern Syria.

Russian-backed Syrian regime forces have also moved towards key Kurdish-controlled cities such Manbij, in anticipation of the planned Turkish assault.

Before the meeting, Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu said the talks with his Turkish counterpart would focus on the opposition province of Idlib and "what can and should be done" when the US withdraws from Syria.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov told reporters following the meeting that much of the discussion focused on the pending US withdrawal from northern Syria.

Russia and Turkey managed to agree on coordinating their steps in Syria "to ultimately eradicate the terrorist threat", he added.

Turkey's official news agency confirmed that a meeting took place, but Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said only that "we will continue our close cooperation with Russia and Iran on Syria and regional issues".

Syria's regime claimed it entered the Kurdish stronghold of Manbij on Friday following an agreement with the People's Protection Units (YPG), a key component in the Syrian Democratic Forces.

The Kurds are looking for new allies following the US withdrawal, accusing Washington of disloyalty, with Turkey poised to attack.

President Donald Trump's surprise decision to withdraw troops earlier this month, Turkey has said it would pause a threatened offensive against Kurdish militants. 

Despite this, Ankara has continued massing troops on the Syria border with military equipment being transfered across the border into a Turkish-held area of northern Syria near Manbij.

Turkish-backed Syrian opposition fighters said they have started moving along with Turkish troops to front-line positions near the town as a show of readiness.

A statement released by the rebels said they are ready to "begin military operations to liberate the city in response to calls by our people in the city of Manbij".

Turkish news agency IHA showed video of at least 50 tanks arriving at a command post in Sanliurfa province early Saturday, close to Kurdish-held areas east of the Euphrates river in Syria.

Saturday's talks appear to be a way of allies Turkey and Russia reaching an agreement on the issue.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, Defence Minister Shoigu, and Kremlin foreign affairs aide Yuri Ushakov attended, while Turkey sent Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu, presidential spokesman Ibrahim Kalin, intelligence chief Hakan Fidan and Defence Minister Hulusi Akar.

Presidents Vladimir Putin and Recep Erdogan did not attend the meeting but the two have scheduled a separate meeting.

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