Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan claimed on Monday that his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin has shifted away from his support from Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's regime, and is open to a Syrian future without Assad.
“I saw him more positive during the face-to-face meeting we held in Baku and in a telephone conversation later," Erdogan said of Putin while on a trip to Indonesia, reports the Turkish Hurriyet Daily News.
According to Erdogan, Putin "does not have that initial stance; he is no more at the ‘we are behind al-Assad all the way’ point. Actually, I believe that he may give up on al-Assad; he is going in a much more positive direction."
If true, Erdogan's claim would back up Arab media reports from late May, according to which Putin has started pulling his support from Assad as the latter's long internecine war continues unabated.
Turkey and Russia have deep economic ties, but have been sharply at odds regarding Syria.
Russia, together with Iran, has been a key backer propping up the Assad regime, while Turkey has been backing the jihadist rebels – and has even been cooperating with Islamic State (ISIS) by propping them up financially with black-market oil purchases, as reported by Western officials.
Turkish cooperation with rebel forces was also seen in a recent video showing how the Turkish government smuggled weapons in to Syria to aid jihadist forces, in a botched attempt in which agents were arrested on the border.
After a recent large-scale ISIS suicide bombing in Turkey, Ankara has launched a limited campaign against the jihadists, but critics say it is using the move as cover to crack down on Kurdish forces – it has killed 260 Kurdish militants in the course of a week as well as Kurdish civilians.
The escalation has broken off peace talks between Turkey and Kurdish forces, and set the stage for an all-out war.