The Kremlin said on Friday it was Turkey’s responsibility to stop rebels in Syria’s Idlib province from firing on civilian and Russian targets, signaling it would continue to back a Syrian government offensive there despite Ankara’s protests.
Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan told his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin late on Thursday that he wanted a ceasefire in Idlib to prevent more civilian deaths and a refugee influx to Turkey.
Erdogan also told Putin by phone that Syria needed a political solution, Erdogan’s office said in a statement.
The Turkish leader has repeatedly complained to Moscow about a Russian-backed Syrian government offensive in the rebel-held northwest, the most serious escalation of the war between President Bashar al-Assad and his enemies since last summer.
The fighting has uprooted around 250,000 people in the territory, the last significant rebel stronghold, and one which borders Turkey.
The Kremlin made clear on Friday however that it was for now unmoved by Erdogan’s calls for a ceasefire, saying the rebels were the ones who had to implement a ceasefire in the first instance.
“We really do need a ceasefire in Idlib and what needs to be achieved is for the terrorists to stop firing on civilian targets and on certain facilities where our troops are located,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters when asked about Erdogan’s request for a ceasefire.
“...This is the responsibility of the Turkish side.”
Russia has complained of rocket and drone attacks against its main Hmeymim air base being launched from Idlib, something Peskov described as “a highly dangerous tendency”.
He made no mention of the idea that Syrian government troops, backed by Russian air power, should stop fighting however, but denied Moscow and Ankara disagreed over Idlib.
The fate of the province has strained relations between Russia and Turkey, which is keen to retain a degree of influence there given its geographical proximity.
Moscow, one of the Syrian government’s staunchest allies, and Turkey brokered a deal in September to create a demilitarized zone in Idlib that would be free of all heavy weapons and jihadist fighters.
But Moscow, which is keen to help Assad retake territory, has since complained about escalating violence in the area and said that militants who used to belong to the Nusra Front group are in control of large swaths of territory.
It has blamed Turkey for not doing enough to hold its side of the bargain, while Ankara, which is worried about refugees crossing from Idlib into Turkey, has repeatedly urged restraint.