MOSCOW (Reuters) – The Kremlin’s envoy for Syria on Tuesday called Turkey’s military offensive in northeast Syria “unacceptable” and denied Ankara’s operation had been cleared by Moscow in advance, Russian news agencies reported.
FILE PHOTO: Russia’s special envoy on Syria Alexander Lavrentiev attends a meeting during consultations on Syria at the European headquarters of the United Nations in Geneva, Switzerland September 11, 2018. Salvatore Di Nolfi/Pool via REUTERS
Alexander Lavrentiev, Russian President Vladimir Putin’s envoy for Syria, was speaking to reporters in Abu Dhabi during an official visit there by Putin.
He made his comments after Turkey ignored new sanctions from the United States to press on with its assault on northern Syria while the Russia-backed Syrian army entered one of the most hotly contested cities, filling a void created by Donald Trump’s abrupt retreat.
When asked if there had been an advance agreement between Russia and Turkey about Ankara’s operation, Lavrentiev was cited as saying:
“No. We had always urged Turkey to show restraint and always considered some kind of military operation on Syrian territory unacceptable.”
Lavrentiev’s comments, which suggest growing tensions between Turkey and Russian, came a day after the Kremlin complained that Turkey’s incursion was “not exactly” compatible with Syrian territorial integrity.
“The security of the Turkish-Syrian border must be ensured by the deployment of Syrian government troops along its entire length,” said Lavrentiev. “That’s why we never spoke in favor or supported the idea of Turkish units (being deployed there) let alone the armed Syrian opposition.”
Lavrentiev said Turkey’s actions risked upsetting delicate religious sensitivities in northern Syria.
In particular, he said the area was populated by Kurds, Arabs and Sunnis who would not take kindly to their lands being resettled by people who had never lived there, a reference to Turkey’s plan to house refugees from other parts of Syria there.
Lavrentiev confirmed that Russia had brokered an agreement between the Syrian government and Kurdish forces that saw the Kurds cede control of territory to Syrian troops.
Those talks had taken place at Russia’s Hmeimim air base in Syria among other places, he said.
Reporting by Maxim Rodinonov, Tom Balmforth and Maria Tsvetkova; editing by Andrew Osborn