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Turkey Seeks Role in Aleppo Ceasefire with Renewed Russia Ties

Turkey is currently holding intense discussions with Russia about the implementation of a ceasefire in the besieged Syrian city of Aleppo, revealed a spokesman for Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

The revelation came on Thursday, a day before Lt. Gen. Sergei Rudskoi, a Russian Defense Ministry official claimed that the Kremlin-backed army loyal to Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad has recaptured 93 percent of the northern Syrian city, which is the capital of Aleppo province.

“As a result of a successful advance, 52 districts of eastern Aleppo have been freed. Over the past 4 days, territory controlled by militants decreased by one third. The Syrian army controls 93% of the city’s territory,” declared the general, claiming that Russian warplanes have not carried out airstrikes around Aleppo since October 18, according to various media outlets.

Aleppo city has been at the epicenter of the ongoing civil war in Syria that began in March 2011.

Since around mid-2012, the province had been roughly divided between Russian-backed Syrian regime control in the west and rebel control in the east, until recently when the Assad troops, backed by Russia and Iran-allied forces, launched an offensive to retake the whole city.

The administration of Barack Obama has stayed out of the ongoing conflict in Aleppo. Despite threatening the Assad regime, President Obama has only authorized strikes against the Islamic State (ISIS/ISIL) and al-Qaeda-linked groups in Syria.

The Washington Post learned from an anonymous senior administration official that “the CIA and [U.S. military] have said that the fall of Aleppo [to Russian-backed Assad troops] would undermine America’s counterterrorism goals in Syria.”

Nevertheless, the Obama administration has largely favored diplomacy over armed intervention as a means of dethroning the Syrian leader.

On Thursday, Ibrahim Kalin, a spokesman for Turkish President Erdogan, told reporters that the Assad regime is carrying crimes against humanity and war crimes, adding that a ceasefire would allow humanitarian aid for civilians to flow into Aleppo, reports Reuters.

The spokesman made those comments during Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yildirim’s first visit to Russia as PM, where he declared the nearly year-long hiatus in relations between Moscow and Ankara is “over,” reports Turkey’s Hurriyet Daily News.

However, some Russian experts, such as Vladimir Avatkov, a professor at Moscow State Institute of International Relations and director of the Moscow-based Center for Oriental Studies, believe it is too early to say that Russian-Turkish relations have been fully restored.

Following the shooting down of a Russian warplane by Turkey in November 2015, Turkey launched efforts to normalize its relationship with Russia in June 2016.

The Erdogan administration has reportedly expressed regret for shooting down a Russian warplane over the Turkish-Syrian border in November 2015, a move that severely damaged the relationship between the two countries.

In July, Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov expressed optimism that improving the links between Moscow and Ankara would result in cooperation over Syria.

On Wednesday, Turkish PM Yildirim said that Russian and Turkey are working on a solution to the ongoing Syrian civil war.

He blamed the Assad regime for the ongoing conflict, telling Russia’s state-run RIA Novosti that when it comes to negotiations the “regime representatives are not honest on this issue,” according to Rudaw.

“It would be useful for Russia to be more effective against the regime, but we are continuing our common efforts,” also said Yildirim, adding, “We need to enable the ceasefire and extend more help to the harmed people.”

On Friday, Russian Lt. Gen. Rudskoi said that up to 10,500 people have left eastern Aleppo in the last 24 hours.

Human Rights Watch (HRW) reported in late November that warplanes linked to the joint Syrian-Russian offensive had dropped leaflets over areas in rebel-held eastern Aleppo telling the estimated 250,000 residents there, “Everyone has given up on you,” and warning them that they “will be annihilated.”

The Erdogan administration has sent mixed messages about the Russian-backed Assad regime.

In July, Turkish PM Yildirim said there are “not many reasons” for Turkey to fight against any of the countries in its region, suggesting that his country would stop fighting against the Syrian regime.

He indicated that Turkey would try to improve relations with its neighbors. Turkey has sided with armed groups fighting the Assad regime throughout the ongoing civil war.

While Russia has backed troops loyal to the Syrian dictator since last year, Turkey has supported various armed groups seeking to overthrow the regime, including jihadists.

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