Turkey and Russia to hold talks on Libya, Syria

Russia’s foreign and defence ministers will visit Turkey on Sunday, the foreign ministry announced, for talks on regional issues including Libya conflict.

The meeting, by Sergei Lavrov and Sergei Shoigu, was agreed by Russian President Vladimir Putin and his Turkish counterpart, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the ministry said Saturday.

A Turkish diplomatic source told AFP the situation in the north African country of Libya would figure high on the agenda of talks in Istanbul. 

Turkish media reported that the Syria conflict would also be discussed.

The Russian foreign ministry confirmed the visit of Lavrov and Shoigu “to hold consultations on regional problems that are of mutual interest”.

Turkey and Russia — whose leaders have forged a strong partnership in recent years — back opposing sides in Libya, which has been riven by unrest since the fall of dictator Moamer Kadhafi in 2011.

Russia, along with the United Arab Emirates and Egypt, has backed eastern strongman Khalifa Haftar. Haftar has reportedly enjoyed the support of the Wagner mercenary group allegedly run by an ally of Putin.

Turkey, together with regional ally Qatar, backs the UN-recognised Government of National Accord (GNA) in Tripoli.

Ankara has sent Syrian fighters, military advisors and drones in support of the GNA, which has changed the tide of war in the conflict-struck country.

GNA forces have in recent weeks recaptured outposts in western Libya seized earlier by pro-Haftar loyalists, who then tried to march on the capital.

In Syria, where Turkey and Russia again back opposing sides, they are working to bring a political solution to the conflict. 

But their partnership remains fragile and is being tested over the fighting in Syria’s last rebel-held bastion of Idlib.

Ankara has raised concerns over the recently increased attacks by forces loyal to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in Idlib. 

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif is also expected to visit Turkey on Sunday, the Iranian foreign ministry said.

While Iran and Russia back Assad, Turkey supports rebels seeking his overthrow.