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Syria backs Russian recognition of east Ukraine, Tukey says ‘unacceptable’

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DAMASCUS/ANKARA: Syria’s government says it “supports” Russian President Vladimir Putin’s decision to recognise two Moscow-backed separatist-held regions in eastern Ukraine as independent, but Turkish president has said that Russia’s recognition of two breakaway regions in eastern Ukraine was “unacceptable”.

In comments carried by the state-run Syrian news outlet, Foreign Minister Faisal Mekdad was quoted as saying that the government of President Bashar al-Assad “will cooperate” with the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic (DPR) and Luhansk People’s Republic (LNR).

His statement at the Valdai forum in Moscow came hours after Dmitry Sablin, a Russian politician in charge of ties with the allied government in Damascus, said he had spoken to al-Assad about the situation in eastern Ukraine.

“He said that Syria would be ready to recognise them the way it had recognised [breakaway Georgian regions of] South Ossetia and Abkhazia” after the 2008 Russian-Georgian war, Sablin told the RIA Novosti news agency.

Speaking at a news conference following Russia’s moves on Monday, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said his countrymen “were not afraid of anything or anyone”.

Meanwhile, Western governments condemned Russia at an urgent meeting of the United Nations Security Council, with the United States calling Putin’s announcement an “unprovoked violation of Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity”.

Putin’s government has been a key ally of al-Assad throughout the Syrian war that erupted in 2011 with the repression of anti-government protests.

Russia’s military intervention in 2015 helped turn the tide of the war in al-Assad’s favour and Moscow maintains military bases in the country.

Last week, Russia’s Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu visited Syria for talks with al-Assad and to inspect a Russian airbase in the war-torn country.

The trip came as the Russian military deployed long-range nuclear-capable bombers and fighter jets carrying state-of-the-art hypersonic missiles to its airbase in Syria for massive naval drills in the region.

During the meeting in Damascus, Shoigu “informed the Syrian president about the exercises of the Russian navy in the eastern Mediterranean”, the defence ministry said in a statement.

Russia’s political and military support for Syria has been a particular sticking point in Moscow’s relations with the West, which has imposed sanctions on Moscow for bolstering al-Assad.

While, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has said that Russia’s recognition of two breakaway regions in eastern Ukraine was “unacceptable”.

“We see this decision by Russia as unacceptable. We repeat our call for common sense and respect for international law by all sides,” Erdogan told reporters on Tuesday.

He called upon all parties to respect international laws.

NATO member Turkey is a maritime neighbour with Ukraine and Russia in the Black Sea and has good ties with both.

Erdogan offered to mediate in the conflict and warned Russia against invading Ukraine. He also criticised the West for its handling of the crisis.

“If both the UN Security Council members and other countries accept, we will take our place in this meeting which (Ukrainian President Volodymr Zelenskyy proposed as UNSC-Turkey-Germany joint summit,” he said.

“The statements of the US and the oddities at the Munich Conference are not clear for what purpose they work.”

He said that “The Munich Conference was nothing more than a NATO Summit.”

Erdogan, who has friendly ties with both Russia and Ukraine, has sought to host the two countries’ leaders for a three-way summit in Turkey to ease tensions.

He visited Kiev earlier this month for talks with Zelenskyy whom he said looked “favourably” to a Turkey-hosted summit.

And he was expecting a response from Russian President Putin.

“And if Mr Putin also looks on this positively, we can, God willing, come together in Istanbul or Ankara,” Erdogan said last week.

Erdogan’s statement came after Russia officially recognised Ukraine’s Donetsk and Luhansk regions as independent states and signed agreements with their separatist leaders in the Kremlin.

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