President of Russia Vladimir Putin: Mr President, ladies and gentlemen,
Mr Erdogan and I met fairly recently in Moscow, on March 10, and held a successful meeting of the High-Level Cooperation Council.
These talks in Sochi are a good opportunity to provide a joint assessment of progress in implementing the March decisions, to outline new goals for joint work for the future, and to exchange views on key international and regional issues.
We exchanged views on prospects for deepening our bilateral ties in the humanitarian sector.
During our exchange of views on the global and regional agendas, we gave much attention to the fight against international terrorism. We agreed to strengthen our cooperation in this area through our intelligence services and defence ministries. In particular, they will continue the practice of holding regular interagency consultations on counterterrorism work.
We discussed in detail the situation in the Middle East, particularly in Syria, of course. Mr Erdogan and I both share the same view that only political and diplomatic means can bring a solution to the Syrian conflict. I remind you that it was in large part thanks to the active efforts of Russia, Turkey and Iran that we not only achieved a ceasefire between Syrian government forces and the armed opposition, but got them to sit down at the negotiating table in Astana, where a fourth round of consultations is beginning today.
President of Turkey Recep Tayyip Erdogan : During our meeting today, Mr Putin and I discussed regional issues, primarily, the Syrian crisis. There is a Russian proverb that I like a lot: ”All men speak of their own ills.“ True, for both our countries, Syria has been a deep bleeding wound over the past six years. At a time when children in other countries are playing and enjoying the arrival of spring and sunny days, Syrian children face death every day. This is a grief shared by us all.
The length of our border with Syria is 911 kilometres. We’re all cut from the same cloth. How can we remain indifferent to children crying in a neighbouring country? How can we turn a blind eye to the killing of children, women, and the elderly with chemical weapons? We have provided shelter to about 3 million Syrian refugees in our country, who are doing their best to survive. Of course, we will talk about Syria, and we will hold meetings to overcome this crisis. We will heed the cries and screams of the innocent, and we will work towards resolving this issue.
My dear friend Vladimir Putin sincerely expressed his desire to put an end to this drama as well. He has personally put in a lot of effort, and I believe that he will continue to do so in the future in order to end the hostilities.
Turkey, Russia and Iran are the guarantor countries for maintaining the ceasefire, and as such, we must be very sensitive in our approach to this issue. We must seize every possible opportunity to reinforce the ceasefire. Some out there are spending their energy on sabotaging this process, however. We are very much aware of what they are doing to destroy the growing seeds of hope. The chemical attack at Khan Sheikhun was a clear illustration of this. This barbaric attack must not go unpunished.
Today, President Putin and I reached the important agreement that those responsible for this attack must be punished. All attacks seeking to violate the ceasefire not only exacerbate the situation, but undermine the guarantor countries’ efforts. We are working together with Russia on all of these matters. I have no doubt that only a political process can settle the Syrian crisis and end the bloodshed there. Syria’s territorial integrity and political integrity are our priority.
As long as Syria remains the stage for proxy war, terrorist organisations will continue to flourish. In this context, the fight against all terrorist organisations in Syria is crucial for the country’s future, for its people’s survival, and for peace in the world.
We never drew distinctions between terrorist organisations, whether YPG, ISIS or Al-Qaeda, they are all the same to us. They all feed on blood, chaos and tears. It is our common responsibility to eradicate these terrorist organisations. We will not accept the emergence of hostile organisations on our southern borders, from where they will threaten our territorial integrity and security. As we have done so until now, we will continue to take all steps necessary to ensure our citizens’ security.
Terrorist organisations are humanity’s common enemy, regardless of their name or ideology. Let me say again that we stand together with our Russian friends in fighting terrorist organisations.
Question (retranslated): I have a question about resolving the Syrian crisis and creating safe zones in Syria. Did the two leaders discuss this issue and, if so, did they reach an agreement?
Recep Tayyip Erdogan: There is a new initiative in this regard. As you may be aware, from the very outset, I have been using the term ”safe zone“. I will continue to use it. However, a new term – ”de-escalation zone“ – has gained currency recently. As you may be aware, refugees from Aleppo have found shelter in the province of Idlib. Unfortunately, problems occasionally emerge in Idlib. A ”green zone“, that is, a ”de-escalation zone“ has been created there. We hope that the de-escalation zone will be preserved.
This is critical for the Astana process. I hope that the decision on the de-escalation zone will be adopted and acted upon to further resolve this issue.
Vladimir Putin: The President and I operate on the premise – I already mentioned this – that the Syrian crisis can be resolved exclusively by political means. However, to set this political process in motion it is necessary to ensure a ceasefire. As the countries that made the greatest contribution to this formula and the practical side of ending hostilities, Russia, Turkey, and Iran have never stopped thinking about ways to bolster the ceasefire.
One way to do so is to create safe zones, or de-escalation zones, as the President just said. We have heard the US President mention de-escalation zones as well. Yesterday, I discussed this issue on the phone with Mr Trump. As far as I understand, the US administration is supportive of these ideas. Earlier, Russia held consultations with Damascus and Tehran, and we believe that we need to work toward creating mechanisms that would guarantee an end to the bloodshed and create conditions for starting a political dialogue. In this sense, I am on the same page with the President of Turkey. We proceed from the premise that the participants in the conflict who gathered in Astana today will make the final decision, because, ultimately, the future of their country depends on them. As guarantors of the ceasefire, Turkey, Iran, and Russia will do their best to ensure that these mechanisms get better and are effective. We will support this proposal.
Question: I would like to know more about creating safe zones in Syria. Whose idea was it, who supported it, who will coordinate the activities in these zones and how? Does this mean that they will be no-fly zones? Won’t creating such zones lead to the violation of the territorial integrity of that country? Thank you.
Vladimir Putin: We discussed this in detail with the President today. We both proceed from the assumption – and we share this position – that creating safe zones should lead to further pacification and consolidate the ceasefire. The absence of bloodshed is the most important prerequisite for starting a political dialogue between the warring sides.
Ultimately, this political process should lead to the complete restoration of the territorial integrity of that country and ensure unified national leadership. Regardless of the views that certain political forces may profess today, they must unite in the interest of the Syrian people. It is up to the Syrian people and the warring sides to decide on what grounds and platform, and in what ways they are going to do so. We hope that these solutions will be found during the negotiation process.
With regard to terrorists, our fight against terrorism will continue despite the creation of such zones. We will continue to fight organisations such as ISIS, Jabhat al-Nusra and the like that are on the UN-approved list of terrorist organisations. Monitoring compliance with the corresponding arrangements in these circumstances is a matter for separate talks.
Who came up with this idea? I believe it came up during the discussion of all these subtle issues with our partners in Turkey, Iran, and Syria itself. As I mentioned earlier, we heard similar proposals from the United States as well. The name – safe zone or de-escalation zone – does not really matter. What matters is that the arrangements we agree upon are complied with. It is likewise important to agree on ways to monitor compliance with these agreements.
With regard to a no-fly zone, if this is a de-escalation zone, then aircraft will not operate there either, provided that these zones show no sign of military activity. These are all subtle professional issues. Our respective defence ministries and special services keep in touch with each other and are in charge of developing these arrangements.