Current dynamics of Russian-Turkish relations

Meeting Russian President Vladimir Putin with Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu and Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov
(December 29, 2016)

Mr Shoigu and Mr Lavrov briefed the President on work to resolve the Syrian crisis, in particular, agreements reached between the Syrian government and the opposition on a ceasefire and readiness to begin peace talks.

President of Russia Vladimir Putin: Colleagues,

The news has just come in that this morning, a few hours ago, an event that we not just long since hoped for but also worked hard for has taken place. Three documents have been signed. The first is an agreement between the Syrian government and the armed opposition on a ceasefire on the Syrian Arab Republicís territory. The second document agrees a series of measures to monitor the ceasefire. The third document is a statement of readiness to start peace talks on ending the Syrian conflict.

The Russian Defence Ministry and Foreign Ministry were in constant contact with our partners in Damascus and other capitals and worked hard together with our partners in Turkey.

We know that the Russian, Turkish and Iranian foreign ministers recently held a trilateral meeting in Moscow, at which all three countries committed themselves to not simply monitoring but also guaranteeing the peace process in Syria.

I would like to hear your analysis of the events currently underway, and we will discuss the next steps in this peace process. We realise that the agreements reached are very fragile and require particular attention, patience, a professional approach to the issues, and constant contact with our partners in the region.

Mr Shoigu, you have the floor.

Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu: Mr President, acting on your instruction, the Defence Ministry, with Turkey acting as intermediary, spent two months in talks with leaders of the groups that make up the moderate Syrian opposition. These groups control the greater part of areas in Syriaís central and northern regions not under control of the government in Damascus. These detachments have more than 60,000 fighters. The most influential field commanders from seven opposition groups took part in the talks.

At the same time, we carried out the same work with the Syrian government. The talks made it possible for the parties to reach a common position and sign these three basic agreements that introduce a ceasefire, establish a monitoring regime, and set out procedures for organising talks on a peace settlement of the Syrian conflict.

The Defence Ministry has established a communications hotline for maintaining cooperation with Turkey, which is acting jointly with Russia as a guarantor of the ceasefire and respect for the agreements reached.

If you decide to let these agreements take effect, we are ready to guarantee the ceasefireís introduction and organise ongoing monitoring to ensure it is respected.

I think that the conditions are in place now for a ceasefire to take effect on Syriaís territory and establish direct dialogue between the Syrian government and the opposition groups that seek to preserve Syriaís territorial integrity and sovereignty. This also creates the conditions we need to be able to reduce Russiaís military presence on Syrian territory.

Mr President, the groups with whom the talks were conducted are presented here. (Watch presentation.) They all signed these agreements this morning. In terms of their territorial location, here you see the territory under these groupsí control.

Vladimir Putin: Mr Shoigu, these seven armed opposition groups, what and who do they represent?

Sergei Shoigu: Ahrar al-Sham, for example, has 80 detachments on Syrian soil, together with military hardware, T-55 and T-72 tanks and artillery. In terms of territory, Mr President, thisÖ

Vladimir Putin: How many armed fighters are we talking about here?

Sergei Shoigu: Sixty-two thousand armed people. Over these two months, we spent the bulk of the time on making sure that the maps indicate what we at one point asked our American colleagues to do.

Vladimir Putin: So, these groups are the core, essentially, the nucleus. They make up the main armed opposition forces.

Sergei Shoigu: Yes, Mr President. They constitute the main opposition forces.

These are the areas currently under their control. Here is Aleppo and here is Damascus, and this area is practically entirely under their control. Whatís more, they have indicated the exact coordinates of locations and settlements under their control. The same goes for the central region and the situation in the districts around Damascus. Thus, we see that this area is under these detachmentsí control.

We have also established a direct communications line with our Turkish colleagues, who are acting as guarantors to ensure that all terms of the agreements are respected, particularly as regards monitoring the agreementsí enforcement. The main purpose of this monitoring work is to ensure that organisations that do not cease hostilities are listed as terrorist organisations, and the same kind of action will be taken against them as is being taken against ISIS and Jabhat al-Nusra throughout the remaining territory.

Vladimir Putin: Thank you.

Mr Lavrov.

Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov: Mr President, we will take measures today to ensure that the package of agreements that was signed be disseminated as official UN Security Council documents. We will brief the Security Council members on the work accomplished and answer their questions.

The current UN Secretary General and the Secretary General Designate, who takes office on January 1, welcomed this process that Russia and Turkey began and that Iran supported and took part in.

Throughout this joint work with Turkey and Iran, we briefed our other partners in the region and kept them informed in what we are doing. Now, following these consultations, we are ready to start preparing the meeting in Astana together with our Turkish and Iranian colleagues.

It is important to increase the number of guarantor countries, and we therefore want at this stage to invite our Egyptian colleagues to join these agreements. To my knowledge, you discussed this matter with the President of Egypt today. Later, at subsequent stages, we could probably get other key countries with influence on events in Syria involved too, countries such as Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Iraq, and Jordan.

Of course, we will invite the UN representative too. This will enable us to secure continuity of this political process, taking into account the framework approved by Security Council Resolution 2254.

I also hope that once Donald Trumpís administration takes office, they too will join these efforts so that we can all work in this area in a friendly spirit and as a team.

Vladimir Putin: Let me say again that the agreements reached are fragile, of course, and require our particular attention and support to cement and develop them. Nonetheless, this is a significant result of our joint work and of the efforts the Defence Ministry, Foreign Ministry and our partners in the region have made.

Now, we must do all possible to ensure that these agreements take effect and that they work, so that the negotiation teams already formed or in the process of formation can come as soon as possible to Astana to begin the real peace process.

In this respect, I call on the Syrian Arab Republicís government, the armed opposition groups, and all countries in the region, whether involved in the conflict or with influence on the parties to the conflict, to give their support to the agreements reached and take an active part in the planned talks in Kazakhstanís capital.

(Addressing Sergei Lavrov) I ask you to organise contacts between myself and our partners in Turkey, Iran and Damascus, in order to discuss our next steps together to reinforce the agreements reached.

I agree with the Defence Ministry proposal to scale back our military presence in Syria. We will certainly continue our fight against international terrorism, of course, and will continue to support the legitimate Syrian government in its fight against terrorism.

We will, of course, carry out the agreements we have reached, including on developing our military base in Tartus and the Hmeimim air base.

I want to thank you for everything you have done in this important part of the fight against international terrorism.

Sergei Shoigu: Mr President, with your permission, we will confirm that the ceasefire will take effect from midnight on December 30.

Vladimir Putin: Agreed.

Sergei Shoigu: Thank you.