In an official state visit, Turkey on Monday again underlined that it does not recognize Russia’s illegal annexation of Crimea.
Turkey's support for Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity will continue, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan told a joint news conference alongside his Ukrainian counterpart Volodymyr Zelensky.
Turkey is “closely” monitoring the situation of Crimea’s Tatar Turks and will continue supporting them with Ukrainian authorities, he added.
Addressing reporters, Zelensky said his country is grateful to get assistance from Turkish partners thanks to military and financial cooperation between the two countries.
On exchanges of prisoners between Russia and Ukraine, Ukraine sought Turkey’s support on the release of Ukrainian citizens including Crimean Tatars in Russian prisons, Zelensky added.
The Tatars have faced persecution since Russia’s 2014 annexation of Crimea.
“Untenable” situation in Idlib
The situation in Idlib, northwestern Syria – a cease-fire zone rocked by frequent attacks – has unfortunately become untenable, said Erdogan in the wake of a deadly regime attack on Turkish troops in Idlib Monday.
Turkey has been very patient, said Erdogan, as from Idlib, which has a population of 3-4 million, some 1 million people are moving towards Turkey's border right now, due to such attacks as barrel bombs by the Assad regime, which Russia turned a blind eye to, he stressed.
A total of "eight people, including three civilians and five [Turkish] soldiers were martyred today in shelling by Assad regime forces in Idlib," he added.
"We are making them [Assad regime forces] pay the necessary price intensively through air and land attacks, and we will continue to do so," he underlined, as Turkey’s defense minister reported Turkey hit 54 regime targets and neutralized 76 regime soldiers.
Everybody should know what they must do under agreements reached in Astana and Sochi as part of the Syrian peace process, and Turkey will continue its work in this framework, he said.
Also touching on Necip Hablemitoglu, a Turkish historian killed in 2002 who was known for his research on the Fetullah Terrorist Organization (FETO), Erdogan said: "I have presented Zelensky intelligence information and files indicating that a suspect in the murder of a Turkish scholar is here."
Hablemitoglu was killed in front of his house in Turkey's capital Ankara, but the murder was never solved. Reports have said his killer may be in Ukraine.
For his part, Zelensky said: "This issue [FETO infiltration of Ukraine] has been on the agenda of two countries for a long time. I learned the details of the issue today."
"I sent all the documents to Ukraine’s Security Service head today," he added.
Zelensky also extended condolences to Turkey over the death of Turkish military personnel in Idlib, Syria Monday in the Assad regime attack.
FETO and its U.S.-based leader, Fetullah Gulen, is accused of orchestrating the defeated coup on July 15, 2016, which left 251 people martyred and nearly 2,200 injured.
Ankara also accuses FETO of being behind a long-running campaign to overthrow the state through the infiltration of Turkish institutions, particularly the military, police and judiciary.
In 2015, prosecutors in Ankara launched an investigation into FETO's involvement in unsolved murders in 2000-2013, including the killings of Behcet Oktay (2009), the head of Ankara police's special operations department, judge candidate Didem Yaylali (2013), and high court judge Mustafa Yucel Ozbilgin (2006).
On Sunday, a prisoner swap between Ukraine’s government and pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine was completed.
On Dec. 9, the leaders of the Normandy Four countries -- Germany, France, Russia and Ukraine -- met in Paris, and the parties to the conflict agreed to a full exchange of prisoners of war before the end of December.
Russia and Ukraine have been at loggerheads since 2014, when Russia annexed Ukraine's Crimea Peninsula after a referendum.
Turkey as well as the UN General Assembly view the annexation as illegal.
Ukraine also blames the Kremlin for separatist violence in Donbass, a region in eastern Ukraine that borders Russia.
On Monday, shelling by the Assad regime killed six Turkish military personnel and injured at least seven in Idlib, northwestern Syria, an area supposed to be under a cease-fire.
Turkey and Russia agreed in September 2018 to turn Idlib into a de-escalation zone where acts of aggression are expressly prohibited.
The Syrian regime and its allies, however, have consistently broken the terms of the cease-fire – including a fresh cease-fire on Jan. 12 – launching frequent attacks inside the zone, killing at least 1,300 civilians since the agreement, and triggering a total of some 1 million towards Turkey’s border.
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