MOSCOW (Dispatches) -- Russia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs said on Tuesday that Turkey’s incursion into northern Syria is violating Syria’s territorial integrity, the Interfax news agency cited Deputy Foreign Minister Oleg Syromolotov as saying.
Syromolotov, who said only the Russian and Iranian militaries had the legal right to be in Syria, made the comments as President Vladimir Putin held talks in southern Russia with his Turkish counterpart Tayyip Erdogan.
Syromolotov was also quoted as saying he expected the Putin-Erdogan meeting to clarify who controlled oil-rich parts of northeast Syria.
Meanwhile, the Kremlin said it hoped Erdogan would be able to provide Putin with more information about Ankara’s plans for northern Syria.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said the two men had plenty to talk about when it came to Syria and that Moscow had observed what he called the exchange of harsh statements between the United States and Turkey.
Kurdish forces are continuing to withdraw in northeast Syria but Turkey would resume its military assault there once a U.S.-brokered ceasefire expired on Tuesday if promises given by Washington were not kept, Erdogan said earlier on Tuesday.
When asked about a suggestion by Germany’s defense minister to create an internationally controlled security zone in northern Syria involving Turkey and Russia, Peskov said the Kremlin would study what he called a new idea.
Putin and Erdogan held talks in the Russian Black Sea resort of Sochi later Tuesday.
Turkey began its cross-border invasion nearly two weeks ago following U.S. President Donald Trump’s decision to withdraw American troops from northern Syria.
Turkey says it wants to set up a "safe zone” along 440 km (275 miles) of border with northeast Syria, but its assault so far has focused on two border towns in the center of that strip, Ras al-Ain and Tel Abyad, about 120 km apart.
A Turkish security source said initially the YPG was pulling back from that 120 km border strip. He said Erdogan and Putin would discuss a wider withdrawal from the rest of the border in their talks.
Syrian and Russian forces have already entered two border cities, Manbij and Kobani, which lie within Turkey’s planned "safe zone” but to the west of Turkey’s military operations.
Erdogan has said he could accept the presence of Syrian troops in those areas, as long as the YPG are pushed out.
Ankara is holding covert contacts with Damascus, partly via Russia, to avert direct conflict in northeast Syria, Turkish officials say, although publicly hostility between the two governments remains.
"Erdogan is a thief and is now stealing our land,” President Bashar al-Assad said during a rare visit to a separate frontline in Syria’s northwestern Idlib region, the last major bastion of Turkey-backed militants.
Assad was seen surrounded by army commanders and soldiers in the town of Hobeit, which the army took in August as part of an offensive to capture Idlib and its surroundings.
With the war now in its eighth year, capturing the Idlib area would be an important victory for Assad, who has steadily recovered control of rebellious areas with Russian and Iranian support.
"We said and continue to say that the Idlib battle is the core to decisively end chaos and terrorism in all of Syria,” Assad was quoted as saying.
Some 300,000 people have been displaced by Turkey’s invasion and 120 civilians have been killed, according to the so-called Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a UK-based war monitor. It said on Sunday 259 fighters with the Kurdish-led forces had been killed, and 196 Turkey-backed militants. Turkey says 765 terrorists but no civilians have been killed in its offensive.
Turkish forces have pressed in from the north, while from the southwest Syrian troops have swept back into territory they left years ago.
On Monday, Pentagon chief Mark Esper said the U.S. was considering keeping some troops near oilfields in northeastern Syria alongside Kurdish-led SDF militant group.