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Turkey to host Russia ministers for talks on Libya, Syria

Turkey and Russia, whose leaders have forged a strong partnership in recent years, back opposing sides in Libya conflict
Member of GNA forces watches a security patrol advance in Libya's Tarhuna earlier this week after the town was retaken from Haftar's control (AFP)

Russia's foreign and defence ministers will visit Turkey on Sunday, the foreign ministry said, for talks on regional issues, including the Libya conflict.

The talks will be held in Istanbul with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and defence chief Sergei Shoigu, as agreed  by Russian President Vladimir Putin and his Turkish counterpart, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the ministry said on Saturday.

Turkey and Russia, whose leaders have forged a strong partnership in recent years, back opposing sides in Libya, which has been riven by unrest since the fall of leader Muammar Gaddafi in 2011.

Russia, along with the United Arab Emirates and Egypt, has backed eastern militia leader Khalifa Haftar, who has reportedly enjoyed the support of the Wagner mercenary group, allegedly run by an ally of Putin.

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Earlier this week, Turkey dismissed an Egyptian proposal for a ceasefire, calling the plan an attempt to rescue Haftar after his forces were defeated in a 14-month campaign to take the capital Tripoli.

Turkey, together with regional ally Qatar, backs the UN-recognised Government of National Accord (GNA) in Tripoli.

A Turkish diplomatic source confirmed to AFP that the situation in Libya would figure high on the agenda of talks in Istanbul. Turkish media reported that the Syria conflict would also be discussed.

The Russian foreign ministry confirmed the visit of Lavrov and Shoigu "to hold consultations on regional problems that are of mutual interest".

Ankara has sent Syrian fighters, military advisers and drones in support of the GNA, which has changed the tide of war in the conflict-ravaged country.

GNA forces have in recent weeks recaptured outposts in western Libya seized earlier by pro-Haftar loyalists, who then tried to march on the capital.

In Syria, where Turkey and Russia also back opposing sides, they are working to bring a political solution to the conflict. 

Still, their partnership remains fragile and is being tested by the fighting in Syria's last rebel-held bastion of Idlib.

Ankara has raised concerns over recent increases in attacks by forces loyal to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in Idlib. 

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif is also expected to visit Turkey on Sunday, the Iranian Foreign Ministry said.

While Iran and Russia back Assad, Turkey supports rebels seeking his overthrow.