ISTANBUL (Reuters) - Turkey and Russia have no disagreements over Ankara’s air and ground offensive into northern Syria’s Afrin region and the two countries are in close contact over the operation, the Turkish foreign minister said on Tuesday.
Turkey launched “Operation Olive Branch” two weeks ago targeting the YPG Kurdish militia in Afrin, opening a new front in Syria’s seven-year-old, multi-sided civil war. Russia is the main backer of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
“We do not have any disagreements with Russia. We continue our contacts with Russia,” Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said in an interview with TGRT Haber, when asked about possible tensions with Moscow over Afrin.
“We need to inform each other in a timely manner, especially (regarding) air strikes and the developments in the field. We contact them in real time or in advance.”
He also said Turkish forces had finished building a sixth observation point in Syria’s Idlib region.
Under a deal reached with Tehran and Moscow to try to reduce fighting between pro-government forces and mainly Islamist insurgents in northwestern Syria, Turkey has agreed to set up 12 observation posts in Idlib and neighbouring provinces.
But the “de-escalation” in violence they were supposed to monitor has halted. In December the Syrian army, helped by Iran-backed militias and heavy Russian air power, launched a major offensive to take territory in Idlib province.
Idlib is one of the last main strongholds of anti-Assad rebels who have been driven from most of their bastions in Syria since Russia joined the war on the side of the Damascus government in 2015.
Turkey, a NATO member, has long been one of the main allies of the anti-Assad rebels.
Reporting by Ezgi Erkoyun; Writing by David Dolan; Editing by Gareth Jones