Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan met Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin in Moscow on Wednesday for talks expected to focus on the conflict in Syria, including their differences on a proposed "safe zone" near the Turkish border.
Russian-Turkish relations have improved to a large extent because of Erdogan's "personal merit," Putin said in opening comments, calling the Turkish leader a "dear friend."
The improvement can be considered "your personal achievement because you focus a lot of attention on this," Putin said, according to a Kremlin transcript.
"We are engaged in many issues of regional security, actively collaborating on Syria," Putin said.
The Russian leader also offered his condolences to Erdogan over a recent ship accident in the Kerch Strait that led to the deaths of several Turkish sailors.
Turkey has been pursuing the so-called safe zone along its border with northern Syria to provide security and stem the flow of migrants as the United States withdraws troops from the war-torn country.
Russia and Turkey, which support opposing sides in the conflict, reached a deal last year to create a demilitarized buffer zone in the northern Syrian rebel stronghold of Idlib, staving off an assault by Syrian government forces.
Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said Monday that the "situation in the Idlib de-escalation zone is rapidly deteriorating," evoking "serious concern."
The area is now controlled by extremist group Hayat Tahrir al-Sham, which has "ousted the forces of the moderate armed opposition," Zakharova said in comments carried by Russian state news agency TASS.
Last week Turkish state news agency Anadolu published a map of the planned safe zone, starting at the pro-Turkish rebel-controlled border town of Jarabulus and extending to the Iraqi border.
The zone would be 460 kilometres long and 32 kilometres wide, Anadolu said, also including important Syrian Kurdish cities such as Kobane.
Syrian Kurds, who have played a major role in battling Islamic State in Syria, control large parts of northern Syria.
Erdogan has said this zone should be created with "logistic and financial" support from US coalition forces.
He has been discussing this with US President Donald Trump, who, in December, shocked allies when he announced the withdrawal of US troops from Syria.
Russia has meanwhile suggested transferring control of all Kurdish-held areas in northern Syria to the government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, the Syrian armed forces and Syrian
During their talks on Wednesday, Putin and Erdogan are also expected to discuss TurkStream, a new natural gas pipeline from Russia that is expected to be operational this year.
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