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Russian army chief in Turkey to discuss Syria


Ankara: Russia’s top army general today was holding talks with his Turkish counterpart on the conflict in Syria, in the highest-level military contact between the two countries since a crisis in relations.

Turkish chief of staff Hulusi Akar welcomed his Russian counterpart General Valery Gerasimov to Ankara in a ceremony with full military protocol, Turkish television pictures showed.

Their talks came as a fragile truce in Syria implemented earlier this week appeared to be holding, despite growing frustration over aid deliveries being held up at the Turkish border.

Gerasimov’s presence in Ankara is also a significant symbol of healing ties between the two countries, after they agreed to normalise relations in June following a months-long crisis over the shooting down of a Russian war plane.

The Russian defence ministry said the two generals would “discuss the current situation and the prospects of resolution of the Syrian crisis” as well as bilateral military cooperation.

The crisis, which followed Turkey’s downing of a Russian jet on the Syrian-Turkish border last year, saw Russia accuse Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of profiting from illegal oil trade with the Islamic State group.

Gerasimov’s visit had been expected in late August after Erdogan went to Saint Petersburg for a landmark reunion with Russian President Vladimir Putin. But it was then postponed without further explanation.

Russia and Turkey have been on starkly opposing sides of the Syria conflict but there have been signs of converging interests following their own reconciliation.

Moscow has flown a year-long aerial bombing campaign in support of forces loyal to Syria’s Bashar al-Assad, while Turkey has backed the opposition seeking to oust him.

However, Ankara has welcomed the fragile last-ditch Russia-US truce plan agreed last week, which went into effect on Tuesday and is supposed to halt fighting across areas not held by jihadists.

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