Turkish President Erdoğan heads to Russia's Sochi to meet Putin


Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan headed to Russia on Monday for talks with his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin set to focus on Syria, the first leg of a three-nation tour that will see him visit Kuwait the following day and then Qatar.

Turkish President Erdoğan was critical of a joint statement by Putin and US President Donald Trump over the weekend, in which the leaders said there was "no military solution" to the Syrian civil war, stressing the need for a political resolution.

"If the military solution is out of the question, then let them withdraw their troops," Erdoğan said in Istanbul ahead of visit to Russia on Monday. Both Russia and the US have bases in Syria, the Turkish leader added.

Turkey and Russia, along with Iran, are part of the Astana process, a political initiative aimed at reducing violence in Syria. Moscow and Tehran back the Syrian government while Turkey has supported the rebels. The sides are working to create de-confliction zones. Idlib, on the Turkish border, is the last rebel-held province in Syria.

Erdoğan described Putin as "my dear friend," as he addressed reporters at the airport in Istanbul before departing for the site of the talks, the Black Sea resort Sochi. The two leaders last met in Ankara in September.

Erdoğan is also keen to see Russian trade and visa restrictions lifted and plans to talk with Putin about advancing construction on a nuclear power plant in Turkey.

He said he would discuss more technical details on buying the S-400, a Russian air defence system. The US is wary over the efforts by its NATO ally Turkey to purchase the system, adding to tensions between the countries.

Erdoğan emphasized Turkey maintains its focus on developing the trade volume with Russia, which has been estimated at $100 billion.

"I can say that the obstacles to this goal have for the most part been removed. I hope that the last few remaining trade restrictions will be lifted soon," he added.

Erdoğan said he would also address expectations for a re-establishment of a visa-free regime between both countries.

The president added that he was also planning to discuss the Nagorno-Karabakh issue with Putin.

Azerbaijan and Armenia are in dispute over the occupied Karabakh region.

Karabakh broke away from Azerbaijan in 1991 with Armenian military support, and a peace process has yet to be implemented.

The last meeting between Erdoğan and Putin was on Sept. 28 in Turkey's capital Ankara.

Later on Monday, Erdoğan will depart for Kuwait to sign bilateral agreements.

Erdoğan will then head to Qatar to attend the third meeting of the Turkey-Qatar Supreme Strategic Committee.

The PKK/PYD has not evacuated Manbij and retreated to the east of Euphrates as promised, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said on Monday.

Speaking at the Atatürk International Airport prior to his visit to Russia, Erdoğan said the issues in Syria will be on the table during his meeting with his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin in Black Sea city of Sochi.

Erdoğan said that there are problems in Idlib, where Turkey monitors a fragile ceasefire deal between the Assad regime and the opposition although both parties often engage in clashes with the Al-Qaida linked Hay'at Tahrir al-Sham (HTS) group.

However, Erdoğan also pointed to PKK threat directed to Turkey and various groups inside Syria. "Not only Idlib should come to mind when Syria is concerned. Those who had to go back to the east of the Euphrates River have not gone so far, despite promises," Erdoğan said, referring to the takeover of Manbij by the U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), which is dominated by the PKK terrorist group's Syrian offshoot Democratic Union Party (PYD) and its armed wing People's Protection Units (YPG).

Turkey has repeatedly warned that it considers a PKK-aligned group's presence in the area as a direct national security threat.

He added that Turkey is constantly being harassed by PYD from Afrin, and the country is determined to take necessary steps to remove this threat.

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