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Russia, Syria, and Turkey Defense Ministers Hold Talks, A First Since 2011

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Defense ministers from Russia, Syria, and Turkey gathered in Moscow on December 28th to discuss various Syria-related developments. This marked the first meeting between the Turkish and Syrian defense ministers since 2011. The conference is a significant step toward addressing and resolving Syria's domestic and transnational challenges.


 


What are the concerns in Syria?


 Take a look at our previous article on the developments in the relationship between Turkey and Syria here


 


The conflict in Syria began in 2011 during the Arab Spring which was a series of demonstrations against authoritarian governments that swept across nations throughout the Middle East and North Africa. Although some of these demonstrations resulted in a successful transition of power in Syria, the protests against President Bashar al-Assad quickly escalated into a civil war. The civil war has continued for several reasons. Some of these include the emergence of armed factions representing opposing sides and differing international interests. For example, the Syrian government is backed by its allies Russia and Iran, which have jointly fought against Western-backed rebels and Jihadist groups such as the Islamic State.


 


According to the Fragile States Index, since 2011, Syria has consistently ranked as one of the most fragile states in the world. Syria stands at number three on the list, tied with South Sudan and only surpassed in fragility by Yemen and Somalia. This has directly resulted in the internal displacement of millions of Syrians and has forced many to emigrate to surrounding nations, including Turkey, Iran, and Iraq. However, the largest Syrian refugee population remains in Turkey, estimated to be around 3.7 million refugees. These circumstances have put a lot of financial strain on Turkey, and the humanitarian crisis in Syria is mounting. This encouraged the meeting between the defense ministers this week.


 


What has the meeting discussed?


"Turkish defence minister Hulusi Akar and the head of its National Intelligence Organisation (MIT), Hakan Fidan, met Syrian defence minister Ali Mahmoud Abbas and Syrian intelligence chief Ali Mamlouk in Moscow along with Russia's defence minister Sergei Shoigu . This meeting between the ministers-maintained focus on addressing the ongoing conflict in Syria, the refugee crisis, and efforts to combat extremist groups in the country. The ministers agreed to continue holding tripartite meetings to warrant relative stability in Syria.


 


What does this mean for Syria and Turkey?


Turkey and Syria have a complex past. Turkey and Syria were joined under the same political entity during the Ottoman Empire. However, after the fall of the Ottoman Empire, Syria became an independent state. Until the Syrian crisis, the two nations maintained friendly relations, engaging in economic and political unions. In recent years, however, the relationship between the two nations has been strained. Turkey has supported opposition groups in Syria and has conducted military operations against Kurdish groups in Northern Syria. Syria has consequently accused Turkey of interfering in its internal affairs.


These meetings are a beginning step for re-normalizing relations between Turkey and Syria. However, it is critical to note that there remains a difference in approach between the Turkish and Syrian governments. Therefore, whether the normalization of relations between the two nations will emerge is yet to be determined. Stay tuned. 


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