Russia-Turkey rapprochement could see Syrian border closed to refugees

Russia-Turkey rapprochement could see Syrian border closed to refugees
Russia's ambassador to Syria has admitted that Moscow is working to close the Turkish-Syrian border, which is a key crossing point for refugees fleeing Russian bombs.
3 min read
01 July, 2016
Turkish security forces have violently prevented Syrian refugees crossing the border [AFP]

Syrians could be prevented from finding sanctuary in Turkey, after the Russian ambassador to Syria warned on Thursday that Moscow was seeking to close the Turkish border.

Alexander Kinshchak admitted that Russia is working to pressure Turkey to seal its border with Syria, which could prevent thousands of refugees from escaping the war-torn country.

The Damascus-based diplomat said that he believes Russia and Turkey will begin to work closely on "counter-terrorism" issues. Moscow's ultimate aim is to seal Syria's northern border, which Russia believes is a conduit for arms and men to Syrian rebel forces.

"If we reach mutual understanding regarding counter-terrorism, if our potential Turkish partners understand that this threat is serious for them as well," Kinshchak said, according to Russia's Sputnik news.

"If we have progress there, understanding and we will start working within one programme to achieve common goals, then of course they will be closing the border."

Russia and Turkey patched up frayed diplomatic ties this week, with President Vladimir Putin saying he would lift a travel ban for Russians to Turkey and could begin to halt other sanctions on Ankara.

It comes as Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan apologised for shooting down a Russian war plane which strayed into Turkish territory last year.

Tensions grew due to Moscow's intervention in Syria from September 2015, which saw Russian war planes pound Ankara-backed Turkmen rebel fighters in northern Syria.

Moscow believes the Turkish-Syrian border is the key supply route for arms and fighters to Syrian rebel groups, and Russian war planes have been working with President Bashar al-Assad's forces to defeat the opposition.

Ankara has closed the border with its southern neighbour before, but Turkey remains the key destination for refugees in northern Syria.

Turkey hosts over 2 million Syrian refugees and was one of the few countries allowing Syrians enter without a visa. Conditions in refugee camps are also thought to be better than in neighbouring countries.

However, Erdogan is under pressure to prevent Syrians crossing the border after a string of attacks Turkey by  Islamic State group militants.

The jihadi organisation has carried out suicide bomb attacks, assassinations, and shelling inside Turkish territory.

On Tuesday, militants believed to be linked to IS killed 44 passengers at Istanbul's main airport, firing into crowds and detonating bomb belts.

Turkish border towns facing IS territories in Syria have also been routinely bombarded by rockets.

Turkish security forces have closed the Syrian border before, using water cannon and live rounds - sometimes resulting in deaths - to prevent refugees entering the country.

Russian air raids meanwhile have killed almost 2,500 Syrian civilians in nine months of bombing, including close to 1,000 children and women, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.