Speaking to reporters in Ankara after his one-day visit to Moscow, Erdoğan elaborated on the Russian government's endorsement of a peace plan that was agreed at a meeting of foreign ministers in Geneva last month and said the most important part of the plan is that Syria's embattled President Bashar al-Assad will not be included in any transitional government.
The Geneva agreement that was adopted at the meeting, which Russia also attended, does not mention Assad's absence or presence in the transitional government and stresses the need to form a transitional government by “mutual consent.”
Following the Geneva conference, diplomats speculated that Russia implicitly accepted Assad's early exit but feared the post-Assad chaos could endanger its vital interests in the war-torn country. Erdoğan said Russia had some concerns about the exclusion of Assad and added that Turkey had proposed several alternatives. The Russian government, in response, said they would need to consider these alternatives, according to Erdoğan.
The Turkish prime minister said Turkey proposed a transitional government without Assad but included members of the regime, opposition and neutral parties. He added that the process of transition should include elections held under this government. He noted that Russia seemed positive on these proposals.
Almost a year after the death of Russian ally Muammar Gaddafi in Libya, Moscow and Ankara are at diplomatic loggerheads over the fate of Assad. Once photographed with Assad and his family at a vacation resort before anti-government uprisings demanded his departure, Erdoğan has since turned his back on his former ally, calling for his removal and hosting Syrian opposition fighters on Turkish soil.
Turkey's ire was raised last month when Syria, the recipient of Russian air defense systems, downed a Turkish fighter jet which Syria claimed was in its airspace. The incident forced Ankara to call on other NATO member states for consultations over what it called an “act of aggression.”
During a joint press conference with Erdoğan on Wednesday, Putin only briefly commented on Syria, saying that he welcomes the fact that the Turkish government supports the Geneva conclusions. The two leaders sidestepped the Syria issue and spoke extensively about the commercial ties between Turkey and Russia instead.
Putin, however, fearing a replay of the Libya scenario, has continued to send Assad arms and has protected him from harsher sanctions from the UN Security Council. Moscow would be loath to see its last stronghold in the Middle East fall -- especially one that hosts a small naval maintenance and repair facility which is Russia's only naval base outside of the former Soviet Union.
Erdoğan said Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu spoke about a transitional government in Syria without Assad during the Geneva conference and that the general atmosphere at the gathering was also in favor of a transition government without Assad. Erdoğan added that if Assad remains a leader in the transitional government, “nothing would be changed.”