Adem Altan | AFP | Getty Images
“We are not going to fight against anyone. We are going to create conditions so that nobody wants to fight against us,” Putin told Russian news agency TASS in an interview published Monday.
“Moreover, our annual expenditures are falling. In contrast, other countries’ [military] spending has been rising,” he said.
Putin’s comments come against a backdrop of rising tensions in Syria between government troops — who are backed by Russia — and Turkish forces and rebel groups in the northwestern Idlib province, which is now the center of a battle for control between opposing sides.
Government forces under President Bashar al-Assad
Turkey, meanwhile, backs some rebel groups opposed to Assad and does not want to give up control of the border amid fears of being over-run with refugees fleeing the conflict. There are already over three million Syrian refugees in Turkey and the country says it cannot cope.
Tensions between Turkey and its neighbor Syria escalated further last week when 34 Turkish soldiers were killed in an airstrike carried out by Syrian forces. On Sunday, when Turkey launched a retaliatory operation, called ‘Operation Spring Shield,’ 19 Syrian soldiers were killed in Turkish drone strikes on Idlib, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported Sunday.
There are now concerns over how far Russia could get involved in the dispute, which marks another chapter in Syria’s nine-year civil war.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his Russian counterpart
Russia and Turkey are in an awkward position given their
On Sunday, Turkish Defense Minister Hulusi Akar said his country did not “aim to face-off with Russia. Our only aim is to stop the Syrian regime’s massacres, radical groups, the displacement of civilians.”
The Kremlin said on Monday that Russia’s stance on Syria remains unchanged and that it wanted to see the Turkish-Russian agreement upheld, Reuters reported.
Turkey has a deal with Russia that aims to create a “safe zone” or “buffer zone” in Syria along the Turkish border that is occupied by Turkish troops. The aim is to stop Kurdish forces (which Turkey labels “terrorists”) establishing a separatist area on its doorstep — a move that it sees as a threat — and to keep prevent refugees entering Turkey.
Russia’s military said it could not guarantee the safety of Turkish planes over Syria’s Idlib province, however.