The sharp escalation in northern Syria, where Turkey is conducting operation the Spring Shield in an attempt to push back Bashar al-Assad's forces and block hundreds of thousands of refugees pouring through the Turkish border, carries the risks of a direct clash between Russian and Turkish military, the Kremlin acknowledged on Tuesday.
When asked by journalists what is the probability that the Russian and Turkish military will enter into a real confrontation in Idlib, Russian presidential spokesman Dmitry Peskov shied away from saying that that such a threat does not exist.
According to Peskov, the efforts are now aimed at minimizing this risk.
"We hope that we are able to minimize this risk altogether thanks to the close contact and dialogue that is being carried out between the military of the two countries,” said Peskov, as quoted by RIA Novosti.
Peskov said that Russia also "strongly rejects" the report by the UN Commission on Syria, which concluded that Russian aircraft indiscriminately bombed Idlib, including targeting civilians.
These conclusions "were made just a day or two after the terrorists in Idlib launched their offensive against Syrian troops, and it is clear that no commission could get reliable information about what is happening on the ground," Peskov said. He added that the commission, which prepared the report, is not an official UN body.
On Tuesday, Russian President Vladimir Putin discussed the situation in Syria with German Chancellor Angela Merkel. Since Saturday, 29 February, Ankara has opened the border to over 3 million Syrian refugees living in makeshift camps in Turkey.
During the phone conversation, Putin and Merkel "expressed hope " that the Russian-Turkish summit will take place on March 5, the Kremlin press service reported.
Germany insists on Merkel's participation in these talks, as well as the presence of French President Emmanuel Macron. But "such a meeting has not been coordinated," Peskov said on Tuesday. Putin and Erdogan will meet face to face, and subsequently a trilateral summit with the participation of Iranian President Hassan Rouhani is possible.
On Monday, the Russian Center for Reconciliation in Syria said it no longer guarantees the safety of Turkish aircraft in Idlib, effectively threatening to shoot down planes in the event of border violations. A day earlier, Turkey bombed two airfields near Aleppo and shot down two Syrian Su-24 front-line bombers.