September 15, 2016 / 6:45 AM / 3 years ago

Top Russian general discusses Syria with Turkish counterpart

Russian Armed Forces Chief of Staff Valery Gerasimov (L) and Chinese Defence Minister Chang Wanquan attend the 5th Moscow Conference on International Security (MCIS) in Moscow, Russia, April 27, 2016. REUTERS/Sergei Karpukhin

ANKARA (Reuters) - The chief of the Russian army’s general staff, Valery Gerasimov, met his Turkish counterpart in Ankara on Thursday for “very productive” talks on military cooperation and Syria, Turkish officials said, reflecting a recent warming of ties.

The meeting between Valery Gerasimov and Turkish military chief Hulusi Akar - the first of its kind in 11 years - would allow them to bring a “joint perspective” to other trouble-spots in the Middle East, the sources added without elaborating.

Russia and Turkey have backed opposing sides in Syria, with Moscow supporting President Bashar al-Assad while Ankara backs rebels fighting to oust him. Relations hit a low last November, when Turkey downed a Russian war plane near the Syrian border.

But ties between Moscow and Ankara were largely restored last month. A Syrian ceasefire deal brokered by the United States and Russia could meanwhile change the dynamics of the conflict, raising the prospect of joint military targeting of banned Islamist groups by the former Cold War foes.

“The unity of understanding between the military wings of Turkey and Russia has been strengthened with this visit and has paved the way for further positive developments in the coming period,” Turkish military sources said.

Turkey launched its first major military incursion into Syria three weeks ago to try to push back Islamic State militants from its border and prevent Kurdish militia fighters from gaining ground in their wake.

Ankara now faces a difficult diplomatic balancing act if it is to win international support for the more permanent “safe zone” cleared of militants it wants on its border. Russia has in the past said any such incursion would be illegal.

Reporting by Orhan Coskun in Ankara and Dmitry Solovyov in Moscow; Writing by Nick Tattersall and Humeyra Pamuk; Editing by Maria Kiselyova and Andrew Heavens

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