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Are Turkey-Russia relations falling apart?

Growing Russia-Turkey relations were always clouded by the looming Syrian problem

Over the past couple of years, it has been increasingly clear that Turkey and Russia are growing relations and increasing bilateral ties. Despite supporting opposite sides in the Syrian conflict, last year, Turkish and Russian leaders seemed to find common ground when saying in a joint statement that they were alarmed about the risk of further deterioration of the humanitarian situation in and around Idlib and had agreed to take “concrete steps” to stop violations of previously negotiated agreements between the three countries.

Despite this, it was already clear last year that Syria would be an obstacle to solidifying Russian-Turkish relations, as glaring issues remained in Syria, and the issue of conflicting interests was still a long way from being resolved. Disagreements appeared to persist, in particular over the threat in Syria from Islamic State, which Erdogan dismissed completely while Putin expressed concern. “Of course, we are worried by the situation in north-east of Syria, where sleeping cells of ISIS are emerging,” Putin told a joint news conference, minutes after Erdogan said that the only threat in northern Syria was from Kurdish militant groups.

The situation has only worsened this year, as, since last April, Syrian government forces have conducted an off-and-on military campaign to retake the final rebel stronghold in northwestern Idlib province. More than 1,000 civilians have been killed while hundreds of thousands of others have been displaced. “Since the start of the offensive, we’ve seen a cycle whereby the regime forces attack, Turkey complains and Russia intervenes to slow the attacks. Then the process starts again,” said Ahmet Evin, a senior scholar at Sabanci University’s Istanbul Policy Centre.

The threat of the war in Syria acting as an obstacle to strengthening Russian-Turkish relations appears to have been realized this year, as relations are at a delicate level, and the recent catalyst that took place and will be discussed in the next point could as well threaten a collapse of relations.

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