President Vladimir Putin said on Thursday that Russia, Turkey and Iran had agreed to take unspecified extra steps to clear Syria’s Idlib region of what he called “a hotbed of terrorists,” but the Kremlin said there would be no military operation there.
Putin, one of Syrian President Bashar Assad’s closest allies, was speaking after hosting a summit in southern Russia to weigh the future of Syria with Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan and Iranian President Hassan Rouhani.
All three countries have forces on the ground in Syria, where they have coordinated their efforts despite sometimes differing priorities and interests.
But tensions between Moscow and Ankara over Syria have risen in recent months, fueled in part by a planned withdrawal of U.S. forces which promises to free up territory controlled by U.S. or U.S.-backed forces, spurring a race to fill the vacuum if and when it opens up.
Before the summit, the Kremlin had made clear it wanted a green light for action in Idlib where it says Islamist militants have made significant inroads despite the area’s technical status as a Moscow- and Ankara-backed demilitarized zone.
“…We should not put up with the presence of terrorist groups in Idlib,” Putin told Erdogan and Rouhani. “That’s why I propose we consider practical concrete steps that Russia, Turkey and Iran can take to completely destroy this hotbed of terrorists.”