Putin Visits Ankara as Bilateral Relations Continue to Deepen

Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, right, shakes hands with Russia's President Vladimir Putin, left, following their joint news statement after their meeting at the Presidential Palace in Ankara, Dec. 11, 2017.

Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, right, shakes hands with Russia's President Vladimir Putin, left, following their joint news statement after their meeting at the Presidential Palace in Ankara, Dec. 11, 2017.

 

In their third meeting in a month, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan hosted his Russian counterpart, Vladimir Putin, in Ankara. The talks primarily focused on Syria, but Putin's visit coincides with U.S.-Turkish relations, reeling from a crisis sparked by U.S. President Donald Trump's recognition of Jerusalem as Israel's capital.

"Regarding Jerusalem, I have observed that we share common opinions with Mr. Putin, and we've come to an agreement that we will sustain our decisiveness in this matter," Erdogan said in a joint press statement with Putin, referring to the Russian president as his "dear friend."

"The resolution by the U.S. to move the American embassy to Jerusalem is far from helping the settlement of the situation in the Middle East," Putin said. "It is destabilizing the already complicated situation in the region, which is difficult as it is today."

In a move that will add to Washington's unease over Ankara's warming relationship with Moscow, the Turkish president announced that a controversial purchase of a Russian missile system should be finalized this week. NATO strongly opposes the sale, claiming it is incompatible with its systems.

Russian President Vladimir Putin, left, Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah El-Sissi, shake hands after a news conference following their talks in Cairo, Egypt, Dec. 11, 2017.
Russian President Vladimir Putin, left, Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah El-Sissi, shake hands after a news conference following their talks in Cairo, Egypt, Dec. 11, 2017.

Putin's visit is just the latest move in what some analysts call a careful and well-played strategy by Russia of building influence and sowing discord amongst its rivals. Before meeting Erdogan, Putin met with another U.S. ally, Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, in Cairo. Prior to the meeting with Putin, Erdogan ratcheted up his rhetoric over Trump's Jerusalem move.

"With their decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel's capital, the United States has become a partner in the bloodshed," Erdogan said.

Throughout the year, Turkish-Russian relations have blossomed as U.S.-Turkish ties have plummeted. The latest meeting between Putin and Erdogan is the eighth this year. The two leaders are increasingly cooperating over Syria. Monday's talks focused on the planned Syrian National Congress on National Dialogue, an event Moscow hopes will bring together the Syrian government and the opposition. Putin said the Congress would address the adoption of a constitution, the parameters of a future Syrian statehood, and the organization of elections under the control of the United Nations.

Even though Moscow and Ankara back opposing sides in the Syrian civil war, analysts say that with the war approaching an endgame, both sides have something to gain in cooperation.

Protesters waving Turkish and Palestinian flags participate in a rally against U.S. President Donald Trump's decision to recognize Jerusalem at the capital of Israel, in Istanbul, Dec. 10, 2017.
Protesters waving Turkish and Palestinian flags participate in a rally against U.S. President Donald Trump's decision to recognize Jerusalem at the capital of Israel, in Istanbul, Dec. 10, 2017.

 

Putin has successfully exploited Ankara's anger and mistrust over Washington's backing of the YPG Syrian Kurdish militia in its war against the Islamic State. Ankara calls the YPG terrorists, claiming they are linked to a Kurdish insurgency in Turkey.

But Moscow, too, has been backing the YPG and its political wing, the PYD. Putin is pressing for the YPG to be included in meetings to end the cvil war, which Ankara bitterly opposes. Last week, images appeared of Russian and YPG forces openly collaborating in a military operation against the Islamic State.

"We've seen Ankara critical of the photo of Russian military representatives and the YPG," said analyst Sinan Ulgen, a visiting scholar at Carnegie Europe in Brussels. "But this cannot be compared to the policy of the U.S., which is providing heavy weapons to the YPG."

Turkish-Russian relations could be further boosted by Putin's announcement of the partial withdrawal of Russian forces from Syria.

"Ankara would look at this as an opportunity to expand its influence across the border," said Ulgen.

A general view shows the Kurdish city of Afrin, northwest Syria March 18, 2015.
A general view shows the Kurdish city of Afrin, northwest Syria March 18, 2015.

Turkish forces remain massed on the border of the YPG-controlled Syrian Afrin enclave.

"As things stand, Afrin remains under Russian protection. But if indeed Russia were to pull back its troops, this would certainly give more room to Turkey to contemplate military action against Afrin," Ulgen predicted.

Putin may be wary of abandoning the Syrian Kurdish militia, which Moscow has been developing ties with over several years. Analysts point out that the powerful militia could be useful in helping protect Moscow's interests in the region from other potential regional rivals, including Turkey and Iran, especially as it winds down much of its military presence in Syria. But such a move would likely test Moscow's currently successful balancing act —managing its conflicting policies in Syria.

More Than 8 Million Yemenis 'a Step Away From Famine'

FILE - A girl scavenges at a garbage dump in a street in Sanaa, Yemen, Jul. 26, 2017.

A girl scavenges at a garbage dump in a street in Sanaa, Yemen, Jul. 26, 2017.

Warring sides must let more aid get through to 8.4 million people who are "a step away from famine" in Yemen, a senior U.N. official said on Monday.

A Saudi-led military coalition fighting the Iran-aligned Houthi movement in Yemen's civil war blockaded ports last month after a missile was fired towards Riyadh.

Jamie McGoldrick, the humanitarian coordinator for Yemen, said the blockade has since been eased, but the situation remained dire.

"The continuing blockade of ports is limiting supplies of fuel, food and medicines; dramatically increasing the number of vulnerable people who need help," McGoldrick said in a statement.

"The lives of millions of people, including 8.4 million Yemenis who are a step away from famine, hinge on our ability to continue our operations and to provide health, safe water, food, shelter and nutrition support," he added.

That marked an increase from past U.N. estimates of around 8 million people on the brink of famine.

The coalition accuses Iran of sending weapons to its Houthi allies, including missile parts, through Yemen's main Hodeidah port, were most food supplies enter.

Saudi state television said on Monday a U.N delegation of experts has arrived in Riyadh to meet the coalition and the Yemeni government the coalition supports "to prevent the transfer of weapons and rockets to Houthis."

Iran has denied supplying the Houthis with weapons, saying the U.S. and Saudi allegations are "baseless and unfounded."

The United Nations says food shortages caused by the warring parties blocking supplies has created the world's worst humanitarian crisis.

The Saudis intervened in neighbouring Yemen in 2015 after the Houthis advanced on the southern port city of Aden and forced President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi and his government into exile.

The conflict has killed more than 10,000 people, displaced more than 2 million and triggered a cholera epidemic that has infected about 1 million people.

The U.S. government on Friday called on the Saudi-led military coalition to facilitate the free flow of humanitarian aid to all of Yemen's ports and through Sana'a airport.

A senior State Department official told reporters in Geneva on Monday that the United States had provided nearly $638 million in humanitarian assistance to Yemen in the U.S. fiscal year 2017 that ended on September 30.

"We have called on both sides to stop the fighting and seek a political solution to the problem," the official said.

He said the United States had made its position clear to its allies to end the blockade and called on the Houthis to allow access for humanitarian supplies as "there are shocking shortage of food, fuel and medicines that are causing great suffering."

Reporting by Stephanie Nebehay, Writing by Reem Shamseddine and Sami Aboudi; Editing by Andrew Heavens and Alison Williams.

Thousands in Ukraine Demand Saakashvili's Release

Supporters of former Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili hold a rally in central Kyiv, Ukraine, Dec. 10, 2017.

Supporters of former Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili hold a rally in central Kyiv, Ukraine, Dec. 10, 2017.

 

Thousands in Ukraine rallied Sunday in protest of the arrest of opposition leader Mikheil Saakashvili, calling for his release and the impeachment of President Petro Poroshenko.

Ukrainian officials have accused Saakashvili, whom they arrested Friday, of abetting an alleged "criminal group" led by former President Viktor Yanukovych — who was pushed from power in 2014 and fled to Russia — and have suggested that his protests are part of a Russian plot against Ukraine.

A day after he declared a hunger strike, his supporters took to the streets of Kyiv to demand his release.

"The authorities have crossed a red line. You don't put opponents in prison," said Saakashvili's wife, Sandra Roelofs, as marchers brandished anti-government and anti-corruption slogans.

Saakashvili, 49, is also wanted in his native Georgia, where he served as president from 2004 until 2013, for alleged abuse of power.

Saakashvili became a regional governor in Ukraine in 2015 at the invitation of President Poroshenko. However, the two men later had a falling out, with Saakashvili accusing the president of corruption and calling for his removal from office.

New Protests Erupt in Muslim, Arab World Against Trump's Jerusalem Decision

Protesters set a U.S flag on fire near the U.S. Embassy in Awkar north of Beirut, Lebanon, Dec. 10,2017.

Protesters set a U.S flag on fire near the U.S. Embassy in Awkar north of Beirut, Lebanon, Dec. 10,2017.

 

A new wave of protests against U.S. President Donald Trump's decision to recognize Jerusalem as the Israeli capital erupted Sunday in parts of the Muslim and Arab world.

Lebanese security forces outside the U.S. Embassy in Beirut fired water cannons and tear gas to beat back Lebanese and Palestinian protesters who hurled projectiles at the embassy and burned Trump in effigy, along with U.S. and Israeli flags.

Protesters hold a rally outside the U.S. Embassy in Jakarta, Indonesia, to condemn the U.S. decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel's capital, Dec. 10, 2017.
Protesters hold a rally outside the U.S. Embassy in Jakarta, Indonesia, to condemn the U.S. decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel's capital, Dec. 10, 2017.

In Indonesia, home to the world’s largest population of Muslims, thousands of protesters mounted a demonstration outside the U.S. Embassy in the capital, Jakarta, while other protests occurred in Jordan, Turkey, Pakistan, Malaysia, Egypt and the Palestinian territories bordering Israel.

Police in the Swedish city of Gothenburg arrested three people for allegedly throwing firebombs at a synagogue. A police spokesman said Sunday the incident is being investigated as attempted arson. No one was hurt in the incident.

Officials in Stockholm say security has been tightened around a synagogue in the capital.

Israeli police said a security guard was stabbed and seriously wounded near the Jerusalem bus terminal. His attacker was arrested.

Netanyahu in Paris

Before he left late Saturday for meetings with European leaders, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu attacked what he said was their hypocrisy in condemning Trump's decision to eventually move the U.S. Embassy from Tel Aviv, where most foreign governments have their embassies in Israel.

"While I respect Europe, I am not prepared to accept a double standard from it," Netanyahu said. "I hear voices from there condemning President Trump's historic statement, but I have not heard condemnations of the rockets fired at Israel or the terrible incitement against it. I am not prepared to accept this hypocrisy."

French President Emmanuel Macron and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu attend a joint news conference at the Elysee Palace in Paris, Dec. 10, 2017.
French President Emmanuel Macron and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu attend a joint news conference at the Elysee Palace in Paris, Dec. 10, 2017.

After meeting with Netanyahu, French President Emmanuel Macron condemned attacks on Israel, but said he opposes Trump's decision on Jerusalem. Macron described it as a "breach of international law and at risk for peace. In risk for peace because I believe these statements do not serve security, including the security of Israel and the Israelis.”

Nikki Haley, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, defended Trump's decision in an interview on CNN. She said Israel already has numerous government agencies in Jerusalem, adding, "Why shouldn't we have the embassy there?" She said Trump "did the will of the [American] people" by making a decision that previous U.S. presidents refused to do.

Arab League meeting

Earlier Sunday, the Arab League called Trump’s decision “a dangerous development that places the United States at a position of bias in favor of the occupation and the violation of international law and resolutions.”

Arab League foreign ministers hold an emergency meeting on U.S. President Donald Trump's decision to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, in Cairo, Egypt, Dec. 9, 2017.
Arab League foreign ministers hold an emergency meeting on U.S. President Donald Trump's decision to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, in Cairo, Egypt, Dec. 9, 2017.

The statement was issued early Sunday after an emergency meeting of league foreign ministers in Cairo and went on to say that Trump’s decision also strips the U.S. of its role as a “sponsor and broker” in the Mideast peace process.

The resolution also said Trump’s Jerusalem decision “undermines efforts to bring about peace, deepens tension and will spark anger that will threaten to push the region to the edge of the abyss of violence, chaos and bloodshed.”

Arab League Secretary-General Ahmed Aboul Gheit attends the Arab League foreign ministers emergency meeting on US President Donald Trump's decision to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, in Cairo, Egypt, Dec. 9, 2017.
Arab League Secretary-General Ahmed Aboul Gheit attends the Arab League foreign ministers emergency meeting on US President Donald Trump's decision to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, in Cairo, Egypt, Dec. 9, 2017.

The head of the Arab League called on the nations of the world to recognize Palestine as a sovereign state with Jerusalem as its capital, in response to Trump's announcement.

The foreign ministers also called on the U.N. Security Council to adopt a resolution condemning Trump’s decision.

The meeting in Cairo took place after days of street protests in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, as well as protests at Al-Azhar Mosque in the Egyptian capital.

A report in Foreign Policy magazine says the White House, in a recent meeting with Palestinian diplomats, failed to tell them about Trump’s Jerusalem decision even as the delegation asked if Trump would sign the waiver to prevent the U.S. Embassy from moving to Jerusalem.

The heads of the largest Christian church in Cairo and Al-Azhar University have said they will not meet with U.S. Vice President Mike Pence when he visits Cairo on December 20. Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has also announced he will not meet with Pence, saying "the U.S. has crossed red lines" on Jerusalem.

A statement from the Coptic Orthodox Church called the Trump decision "inappropriate and without consideration for the feelings of millions of people."

In Paris, pro-Palestinian demonstrators marched ahead of Netanyahu's visit. Netanyahu met with French President Emmanuel Macron, who has called Trump's decision "regrettable."

Arab League: Trump Jerusalem Decision ‘a Dangerous Development’

Arab League foreign ministers hold an emergency meeting on U.S. President Donald Trump's decision to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, in Cairo, Egypt, Dec. 9, 2017.

Arab League foreign ministers hold an emergency meeting on U.S. President Donald Trump's decision to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, in Cairo, Egypt, Dec. 9, 2017.

 

The Arab League says U.S. President Donald Trump’s decision to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel is “a dangerous development that places the United States at a position of bias in favor of the occupation and the violation of international law and resolutions.”

The statement was issued early Sunday after an emergency meeting of league foreign ministers in Cairo and went on to say that Trump’s decision also strips the U.S. of its role as a “sponsor and broker” in the Mideast peace process.

Arab League Secretary-General Ahmed Aboul Gheit attends the Arab League foreign ministers emergency meeting on US President Donald Trump's decision to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, in Cairo, Egypt, Dec. 9, 2017.
Arab League Secretary-General Ahmed Aboul Gheit attends the Arab League foreign ministers emergency meeting on US President Donald Trump's decision to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, in Cairo, Egypt, Dec. 9, 2017.

The resolution also said Trump’s Jerusalem decision “undermines efforts to bring about peace, deepens tension and will spark anger that will threaten to push the region to the edge of the abyss of violence, chaos and bloodshed.”

The head of the Arab League called on the nations of the world to recognize Palestine as a sovereign state with Jerusalem as its capital, in response to Trump’s announcement.

The ministers also called on the U.N. Security Council to adopt a resolution condemning Trump’s decision.

The meeting in Cairo took place after three days of street protests in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, as well as protests at Al-Azhar Mosque in the Egyptian capital.

Palestinian National Authority Minister of Foreign Affairs Riyad al-Maliki attends the Arab League foreign ministers emergency meeting on US President Donald Trump's decision to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, in Cairo, Egypt, Dec. 9, 2017.
Palestinian National Authority Minister of Foreign Affairs Riyad al-Maliki attends the Arab League foreign ministers emergency meeting on US President Donald Trump's decision to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, in Cairo, Egypt, Dec. 9, 2017.

A report in “Foreign Policy” magazine says the White House, in a recent meeting with Palestinian diplomats, failed to tell them about Trump’s Jerusalem decision even as the delegation asked if Trump would sign the waiver to prevent the U.S. Embassy from moving to Jerusalem.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in a statement Sunday: “I hear (from Europe) voices of condemnation over President Trump’s historic announcement, but I have not heard any condemnation for the rocket firing against Israel that has come (after the announcement) and the awful incitement against us.”

‘US has crossed red lines’

The heads of the largest Christian church in Cairo and Al-Azhar University have said they will not meet with U.S. Vice President Mike Pence when he visits Cairo on December 20. Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has also announced he will not meet with Pence, saying “the U.S. has crossed red lines” on Jerusalem.

A statement from the Coptic Orthodox Church called the Trump decision “inappropriate and without consideration for the feelings of millions of people.”

In Paris, pro-Palestinian demonstrators marched ahead of a visit by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Sunday. Netanyahu is to meet with French President Emmanuel Macron, who has called Trump’s decision “regrettable.”

Demonstrators shout as they hold Palestinian flags during a protest against U.S. President Donald Trump's decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel's capital, at Republique Square in Paris, France, Dec. 9, 2017.
Demonstrators shout as they hold Palestinian flags during a protest against U.S. President Donald Trump's decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel's capital, at Republique Square in Paris, France, Dec. 9, 2017.

Pro-Palestinian rallies also took place Saturday outside the U.S. Embassy in Rome. Demonstrations took place Friday in Iraq, Jordan, Syria, Pakistan, Lebanon, Malaysia and Indonesia, the world’s most populous Muslim-majority country.

Earlier Saturday, Israeli airstrikes killed two men in the Gaza Strip. Hamas said it lost two gunmen in those airstrikes.

An Israeli army statement said the targets of the strikes were “two weapons manufacturing sites, a weapons warehouse and a military compound.”

Criticism of Washington

Some of the United States’ oldest allies turned their backs on Washington’s decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital during an emergency meeting of the U.N. Security Council on Friday.

More than half the council’s 15 members requested the open meeting, and delegations from other U.N. member states packed the chamber, indicating the importance Jerusalem’s status holds around the globe.

FILE - A woman carries a poster reading "Jerusalem for All" as Muslim worshippers gathered in front of the White House for Friday prayers in Washington to protest President Donald Trump's declaration of Jerusalem as Israel's capital, Dec. 8, 2017.
FILE - A woman carries a poster reading "Jerusalem for All" as Muslim worshippers gathered in front of the White House for Friday prayers in Washington to protest President Donald Trump's declaration of Jerusalem as Israel's capital, Dec. 8, 2017.

Security Council members criticized the Trump administration decision, saying it risked prejudging the outcome of final status issues and threatened the peace process. They also expressed concerns it could be exploited by extremists and radicals, fueling tensions in an already turbulent region.

Trump’s announcement defied decades of diplomacy in the quest to bring peace to Israel. Jerusalem has been one of the biggest stumbling blocks in the quest, and it was widely believed that a solution would be found in peace negotiations.

The White House has denied that the president’s announcement on moving the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem means his administration is pulling out of the Middle East peace process.

No other country has immediately followed Trump’s lead in planning to relocate its embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, something the White House has acknowledged.

Ed Yeranian in Cairo contributed to this report.

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