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News conference following Russian-Turkish talks

January 23, 2019, The Kremlin, Moscow

Vladimir Putin and President of the Republic of Turkey Recep Tayyip Erdogan held a joint news conference after Russian-Turkish consultations.

President of Russia Vladimir Putin: Mr President, ladies and gentlemen,

Regrettably, on the eve of our talks, reports of a tragic accident on the Black Sea arrived. We talked about this at the beginning of our meeting. Turkish sailors are among the dead. I would like to express my sincere condolences once again in this connection.

Mr President and I work closely and meet regularly. Our meetings are always intensive and, without exaggeration, productive. This has a positive influence on our practical work.

The Russia-Turkey-Iran summits in Ankara and Tehran, as part of the Astana process, are also very productive. They were devoted to the settlement in Syria. We are preparing to host another summit in Russia soon. Mr President and I have already agreed on the venue and tentative date. We will have to coordinate this with our Iranian partners.

Today, our talks took place in a constructive and businesslike atmosphere, something that is traditional for Russian-Turkish talks. We largely concentrated on economic issues and humanitarian ties but certainly spoke at length about the situation in Syria. We discussed in detail the prospects for the inter-Syrian political process.

Russia and Turkey assume a clear-cut position of principle – to achieve a long-term settlement of the Syrian crisis on a political and diplomatic basis, primarily, in line with UN Security Council Resolution 2254 and with strict observance of the unity, sovereignty and territorial integrity of the country.

It is in this vein that Mr President and I discussed issues of cooperation in the Astana format. At this time, this format is the most effective mechanism for settling the conflict in Syria.

We, of course, focused on establishing a Constitutional Committee, which will deal with key aspects of the future structure of the state in Syria. Let me remind you that Russian and Turkish diplomats, in close contact with their Iranian colleagues, carried out serious work to coordinate the membership of this committee and honoured all agreements we reached with France and Germany in Istanbul.

Sadly, we failed to form this Constitutional Committee before the end of last year, though our efforts laid a strong and balanced foundation for launching a stable and viable political settlement process.

We also discussed issues related to finally putting a stop to all terrorist groups’ activities in Syria. In particular, we talked about implementing the Russian-Turkish Memorandum on establishing a demilitarised zone in Idlib, which we signed in Sochi. We can see that our Turkish partners spare no effort to eliminate the terrorist threat emanating from there.

At the same time, we must work together with the aim of finally relieving tensions in that area. In this context, we discussed what additional steps Russia and Turkey could take to stabilise the situation around Idlib.

We proceed from the premise that supporting the ceasefire should not come at the expense of the struggle against terrorists, which is to be continued.

Another topic of discussion was the US leadership’s intention to withdraw US troops from the north-east of Syria and its effect on developments in the Syrian Arab Republic going forward. If these plans are really executed, it will be a positive step and would help stabilise the situation in this troubled area of Syria, currently under the control of Kurdish formations.

In this context, we support official Damascus entering into dialogue with Kurdish representatives. This dialogue would doubtless promote the consolidation of Syrian society and national accord, which would be in the interests of both Syria and all neighbouring countries.

Cooperation between Russia and Turkey in the post-conflict development of Syria is of great importance. The President and I agreed that the military forces and diplomats of both our countries would continue coordinated efforts in this direction with the aim of encouraging the large-scale return of Syrian refugees and internally displaced persons.

When speaking about the current aspect of bilateral relations, we noted that economic cooperation was increasing. Trade for January-November 2018 increased by 18 percent to $23 billion or more than over the whole year of 2017.

The High-Level Russian-Turkish Cooperation Council has been working efficiently to coordinate Russian-Turkish partnership in a number of spheres. The council’s next meeting will be held in Russia this year.

Russia and Turkey are working together on major projects, primarily in energy. Last November in Istanbul, the President of Turkey and I took part in a ceremony marking the completion of the TurkStream gas pipeline’s offshore section. I would like to remind everyone that within less than 18 months we have built two underwater lines of this project of major importance for Russia and Turkey; each line will carry 15.75 billion cubic metres of natural gas. We hope the onshore part of the project will proceed at a comparable pace, so that we will be able to launch the pipeline according to plan by the end of 2019.

The launch of this new gas pipeline is important for the energy security of both Turkey and southern and southeastern Europe.

We are on course to implement another major project, the construction of Turkey’s first nuclear power plant, Akkuyu. We are building the first power unit for it and plan to put it into operation in 2023, in time for the 100th anniversary of the Republic of Turkey, just as Mr President has instructed.

We welcome the Turkish business community’s interest in expanding operations in the Russian market. In this context, we have invited Turkey to attend the INNOPROM-2019 International Industrial Trade Fair, which will be held in Yekaterinburg in July, as a partner country.

Of course, we also discussed our cultural and humanitarian ties. We are preparing to hold the cross-years of culture and tourism in Russia and Turkey.

Russia firmly holds first place in the number of foreign tourists visiting Turkey. Nearly six million Russian tourists visited Turkey in 2018. Our Turkish partners have developed close cooperation with us in order to ensure the comfort and security of Russian visitors.

I would like to conclude by saying that our talks with Mr Erdogan were meaningful and fruitful. They will undoubtedly help strengthen Russian-Turkish relations on the principles of neighbourliness and respect for one another’s interests.

I would like to thank President Erdogan for accepting our invitation to come to Moscow today.

Thank you very much.

President of the Republic of Turkey Recep Tayyip Erdogan (retranslated): Mr President, my dear friend,

Delegation heads and members of the media,

I wholeheartedly greet all of you.

I would like to say once again that I am delighted to be in Russia. In your presence, I would like to express my gratitude to Mr President for the warm welcome accorded to us.

We have come to Russia shortly after the terrible tragedy in the Kerch Strait. Four of the 16 dead are Turkish citizens. The search and rescue operation is still going on.

May those who have died rest in peace. I wish courage and patience to the victims’ families and speedy recovery to those injured. I extend our condolences to the other countries whose citizens have died.

Despite the adverse weather, Russia conducted the search and rescue operation in full. I would like to express our gratitude to Mr Putin and all representatives of the Russian team.

We maintain close and very good cooperation in all spheres, including the economy, trade, energy and culture. Being our countries’ leaders, Mr Putin and I can say that our cooperation is growing stronger from day to day.

Our economic cooperation is growing progressively, and our bilateral trade is on the rise. As Mr President has noted, our trade has reached $26 billion.

Our two main projects – the Akkuyu nuclear power plant and the TurkStream gas pipeline – are moving forward consistently.

This year we plan to hold a large number of events as part of the cross-year of culture and tourism.

Russia holds the leading place in terms of the tourists visiting Turkey. Last year, we had some 6 million Russian tourists. We expect the number to increase considerably this year.

As for visa-free travel, we had this issue on our agenda and we discussed it. The introduction of this procedure would have a great impact on our relations in terms of mutual travel.

As far as Syria is concerned, we discussed both the Idlib memorandum and the quadripartite summit. We also assessed the US decision to pull out its forces.

Cooperation between Turkey and Russia is a touchstone of Syrian peace and stability. Together with our Russian friends, we intend to strengthen our coordination still further. It is of critical importance in this respect not to allow a vacuum of power to take shape after the US pullout.

Our only goal as a state is to fight terrorist groups and to clear the territory from these elements, primarily ISIS and YPG. We know well who supports them. We are particularly opposed to the terrorist organisations that are attempting to undermine our relations with Russia.

We will work in close coordination and will rapidly implement the decisions approved in this area.

A Constitutional Committee should be formed within a brief timeframe. We would like to accelerate work in this area, particularly the joint efforts by the relevant colleagues. We hope and we are certain that the job will be done soon.

We have reviewed the problem of Syrian refugees. This issue is clearly affecting us because my country is giving refuge to 3.5 million Syrians.

Over 300,000 Syrians have returned to their homes in both the Operation Euphrates Shield zone and the Operation Olive Branch zone. These people have resumed normal life that is far removed from terrorism and various problems.

All of this should be implemented and extended to other territories in Syria and the eastern bank of the Euphrates. We will work accordingly in all formats – both bilateral and the Astana formats.

We will hold a new trilateral summit in Russia with my friend Mr Rouhani. We are also planning that Russia will host a meeting of the High-Level Cooperation Council.

I would like to express the wish that the decisions we have approved only benefit our countries and to thank my dear friend Mr Putin for his hospitality.

Question (retranslated): About the security zone [buffer zone]: are there any specific achievements in bilateral negotiations with the American side? Was this question on today's agenda?

Mr Putin, what is Russia’s approach to this issue? Thank you.

Recep Tayyip Erdogan: Meetings continue on the creation of a security zone. All the regions that pose a threat to us are very important, and we must take appropriate measures. In our contacts with the Americans, we can see that they have a positive approach to our requirements [to create a buffer zone] of 25–30 kilometres.

We have no problems with Russia in this regard, because these regions will be cleared of terrorists. After that, our respective authorities, the ministers of foreign affairs and the ministers of defence will do the required work, and we will remain sensitive to this issue.

Vladimir Putin: In this connection, I would like to remind you that the American military personnel are present on the territory of the Syrian Arab Republic illegally. There are no international legal grounds for having them there, neither an invitation from the legitimate government, nor a decision of the United Nations Security Council.

At the same time, as you know, we have established constructive cooperation with our American partners in the fight against terrorism, including in Syria. I hope that this work will continue. This is my first point.

The second. We respect the interests of our Turkish friends in ensuring their security.

And the third. The 1998 treaty between the Syrian Arab Republic and the Republic of Turkey is still valid, and it deals specifically with the fight against terrorism. I think this is the legal framework that covers many issues relating to ensuring Turkey’s security on its southern borders. Today we have been discussing this issue thoroughly and intensively enough.

Question: Mr Erdogan, Mr Putin,

My question will have several parts but all of them deal with the same subject.

First of all, I would like to ask you to clarify the situation in Idlib, where, despite a degree of success, terrorists continue to operate actively and where more and more violations of the ceasefire regime are recorded. What agreements have you reached today for resolving this situation?

Another matter I would like to ask you to clarify is the Constitutional Committee that was mentioned today. Its membership has not yet been made public. What, in your opinion, are the main obstacles to finalising this process, and how do you plan to overcome them?

Vladimir Putin: The first part of your question deals with Idlib and the Idlib security zone.

Indeed, we have discussed this matter in great detail today (I talked about it, and President Erdogan has also noted this). I would like to repeat once again, we can see that our Turkish friends are working hard to fulfil all our agreements in order to guarantee security and set up a buffer zone there. Unfortunately, many problems persist there, and our Turkish partners and we can see all this.

We have agreed on how to coordinate our work in the short term. Defence ministers held additional consultations in our presence, and they are drafting additional joint measures. We will implement them, and we will see to it that all our agreements are fulfilled. We agree that we must continue to jointly fight terrorists wherever they are, including in the Idlib zone.

Regarding the second question about establishing the Constitutional Committee, we believe that this is a very important process that should reinforce our achievements on the ground in the fight against terrorists because all long-term issues can only be completely resolved by political and diplomatic methods alone.

It is essential to press for accord between all warring parties in Syria. This can only be accomplished through talks, including talks on establishing a stable institution of state authority that would be accepted by all denominations and ethnic groups. This institution should make everyone feel that they are involved in the future of their homeland, the Syrian Arab Republic.

As for difficulties, they have, unfortunately, arisen, and I have also noted this. All of us, all the parties involved in this process, should display additional political will, greater consistency, and a sincere desire to achieve results. I want to emphasise the latter aspect.

As you know, the leaders of Russia, Turkey, France and the Federal Republic of Germany met in Istanbul at the initiative of the President of Turkey, and agreed to jointly establish this committee.

Our colleagues asked Russia to coordinate these matters regarding this committee’s line-up with the Syrian Government and our Iranian partners. The Republic of Turkey had to accomplish a difficult task and to coordinate this list with representatives of the opposition.

We have completed this difficult job. I assure you that we have coordinated this matter during a difficult discussion with Damascus and Tehran. I am sure that it was not easy for our Turkish friends to coordinate this list with the opposition.

However, we know, and not just know, but, I think, Mr President will confirm this: we coordinated and agreed with what was declared by the Turkish side. The work was over, but suddenly, at the final stage, when it was necessary to put a full stop, we heard in Geneva that some of our partners regarded this job as unfinished.

For us, this was absolutely unexpected. I think this can be found even in the Internet. I mean a letter to the UN Secretary-General, a letter signed and sent on behalf of the permanent representatives of France, Germany, and Great Britain. Item 5 of the letter states that Special Representative Mr de Mistura is not to approve any statement concerning the Constitutional Committee which the Astana guarantors will make in Geneva on December 18–19.

For us, this was absolutely unexpected, and now I even find it difficult to comment on this appeal to the Secretary-General by our partners. But we will, of course, practice patience and will continue working with them, too, although we can hardly understand what their position is based on.

I have already had conversations with my counterparts from France and the Federal Republic of Germany. I hope our foreign ministries will manage to organise this work in such a way as to restore the former level of trust.

Recep Tayyip Erdogan: My dear friend has given a clear and concise reply on both Idlib and the Constitutional Committee, because we had been in contact on these matters earlier.

In Idlib, we will fight the terrorist organisations jointly, as we agreed, because this fight is a protracted rather than a one-time affair. Our main goal is to make sure that the Syrian people enjoy calm and stability, and to deprive the terrorist elements of opportunities. We have once again reiterated our support for each other in this matter.

As far as the Constitutional Committee is concerned, we have clearly stated on this issue that our foreign ministries will go on with their work.

Mr De Mistura was present at our summit and we have his representative here.

How will the new process continue and what it will be like?

But the letter that was quoted just now really surprised all of us. But this is sooner their problem, not ours.

At the Istanbul summit, we all demonstrated that a joint solution had been reached and we will continue advancing in this direction. In this regard, my dear friend and I are of the same opinion. We hope that this effort will be crowned with success. But the work must continue in this direction.

Thank you.

January 23, 2019, The Kremlin, Moscow