Experts say the contact is symbolically important but wouldn’t change much on the ground as Turkey and Russia are still on opposite sides over Idlib.
Turkey and Syria’s intelligence heads, Hakan Fidan and Ali Mamlouk, met in Moscow on Monday, Syrian news agency SANA said.
Citing a senior Turkish official, Reuters confirmed the reports and said the discussions included "the possibility of working together against YPG, the terrorist organisation PKK's Syrian component, in the East of the Euphrates river”.
Both parties previously acknowledged that their intelligence services were in contact, but the latest meeting marks the first official acknowledgement of a high-level meeting.
Kyle Orton, a researcher focusing on Syria and terrorism, told TRT World that even though the intelligence agencies were in touch, the counterparts’ official meeting is symbolically important.
“The fact the meeting was in Moscow gives the Russians an element of prestige and furthers the rehabilitation of Assad, both of which were Kremlin priorities when they intervened, to begin with,” Orton said.
“It does not change much on the ground, however: Turkey and Russia are on opposite sides over Idlib and will remain so.”
Turkey has been supporting Syrian rebels since 2011 when the country’s peaceful protests turned into a civil war following regime leader Bashar al Assad’s brutal crackdown on unarmed protesters.
The rebels made significant territorial gains in the first few years of war, but the situation began changing in favour of Assad in 2015 with Russia’s aerial intervention. Meanwhile, Iran has supported the regime on the ground.
While supporting the different parties of the war, Russia and Turkey have been working together for a political solution for Syria and removal of PKK/YPG from the Turkish border -- a national security issue for Turkey.
The duo recently agreed on a ceasefire deal to stop Russian and the regime air strikes in northwestern Syria, although “acts of aggression” had been already officially banned in the area.
The ceasefire was set to take effect on January 12, at 21:01 GMT, but Russia-backed air strikes continued in the northwest despite the deal -- a scenario has repeated many times in the past.
Erdogan warning a military action in Syria
“The meeting of two intelligence chiefs doesn’t mean that Turkey and the Syrian regime is getting closer. In fact, what comes out of this meeting can end up being a further strain in relations as well,” Omer Ozkizilcik, an analyst for the SETA Foundation and Editor-in-Chief of Suriye Gundemi, a Regional Politics Journal told TRT World.
Following the meeting of intelligence heads in Moscow on Monday, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan warned the Syrian regime with military action if it doesn’t stop attempting to break the ceasefire agreed by its ally Russia.
“Four hundred thousand displaced Syrians in Idlib must be returned to their homes. If necessary, we’ll stop the regime’s attempts to break the ceasefire on our own. Everyone should see that we don’t joke, we will do whatever we say,” Erdogan said.
According to the United Nations, more than 300,000 have fled their homes since December 1, 2019, and more than 1,300 civilians have been killed by air strikes since April, according to Syrian Observatory of Human Rights. Northern Idlib, near the border with Turkey, already hosts around 1.5 million displaced Syrians.
Ozkizilcik says the reason why Erdogan used strong rhetoric against the regime is the continuing air strikes causing large-scale violence and displacement, which puts a major strain on Turkey since it's already hosting 3.5 million Syrian refugees.
“If two million more refugees arrive in Turkey as the UN suggests, that would be something that Turkey can’t handle along with the fact that it would mean a greater migration tragedy,” Ozkizilcik says.
“Turkey tried diplomatic ways to prevent it, but it says it can also use military force, if necessary,” he says, referring to the ceasefire agreement.