Thursday, October 28, 2021

Russia, Turkey disagree but don’t confront in Syria: Ambassador

Oct 28, 2021. Greece.

Moscow does not recognize Turkish “occupation” of Syrian territory and their backing of armed groups, but rather than confront Ankara, they agree to disagree, Russia’s ambassador to Iraq said on Wednesday.

“We do not recognize what Turks are doing in Syria, in terms of occupation of its territories, in terms of their support to terrorist groups,” said Ambassador Elbrus Kutrashev in a panel of the Middle East Research Institute (MERI) forum. While they disagree on many things, Moscow and Ankara do not exchange accusations, he added.

“There is no deal between Russia and Turkey. In terms of future of Syria, we are disagreeing completely,” Kutrashev said. “Syria for us is a strategic ally. We do not make deals with anybody at the expense of our allies.”

Russia is a key backer of President Bashar al-Assad. Turkey and its proxies control stretches of northern Syria, including parts of the provinces of Aleppo and Idlib, as well as areas around Sari Kani (Ras al-Ain) and Gire Spi (Tel Abyad) in the northeast that Turkey seized from Kurdish forces in a 2019 offensive. Ceasefires were brokered by Moscow and Washington, but are frequently violated.

Turkey’s opposition to Kurdish forces in Syria, which it considers a branch of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), extends to United Nations-led efforts to find a political solution to the Syrian crisis. “There is Turkish veto on SDF participation in the political process,” Kutrashev said, referring to the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces. 

From the beginning, Moscow wanted all parts of Syria to be included in the talks, but if Turkey were to object, it would scupper the effort, he said: “If Turkey leaves the room, so do many Syrian opposition groups.”

Russia is also trying to mediate between Kurds and Damascus. “We are now facilitating negotiation process between SDF, Rojava, and the Syrian government. It is not an easy thing to be done,” the Russian ambassador said, noting the two sides do not trust each other. 

Iran is also an influential player in Syria. Damascus imports oil from Iran. The SDF, the main ally of the US-led global coalition against the Islamic State (ISIS) on the ground in Syria, controls most of the country’s oilfields outside of areas held by the regime and the US has said they want to keep the oil out of the hands of Iran and Assad.

Kutrashev said Russia’s position is that it is “senseless” to discuss many Middle Eastern issues without including Iran. “Those who are unhappy about Iranian influence in the region... should think about not confronting this Iranian influence but dealing with reasons for which Iran is playing such a big role, for example in Syria,” he said. “If it had not been for Iranian economic aid, Syria would have been crushed a long time ago.”