Russia has reminded Turkey that it must obtain the consent of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s government for its plan to create a safe zone in the northeastern part of the conflict-plagued Arab country.
“The question of the presence of a military contingent acting on the authority of a third country on the territory of a sovereign country and especially Syria must be decided directly by Damascus. That’s our base position,” Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova told reporters in Moscow on Thursday.
The remarks came as Iranian President Hassan Rouhani and his Russian and Turkish counterparts Vladimir Putin and Recep Tayyip Erdogan held a tripartite summit in the Russian coastal city of Sochi to provide further coordination among the three countries towards a long-term settlement of the Syria crisis.
The three leaders are going to hold their fourth such meeting in the Astana format.
The Sochi summit comes before the 12th Astana talks in the Kazakh capital in mid-February. The first round of the Astana talks commenced a month after the three guarantors joined efforts and brought about an all-Syria ceasefire.
Moscow, Tehran, and Ankara have been mediating peace negotiations between representatives from the Damascus government and Syrian opposition groups in a series of rounds held in Astana and other places since January 2017.
Since 2012, Turkey has been calling for the establishment of a safe zone of 30-40 kilometers between the northern Syrian towns of Jarablus and al- Ra’i in a bid to drive out the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG). However, the safe zone is yet to be established.
Erdogan and his US counterpart Donald Trump held a telephone conversation last month, during which the Turkish leader expressed Ankara’s determination to establish a safe zone in northern Syria.
Trump has suggested creation of a 30-kilometer safe zone along Turkey’s border with Syria, but has not specified who would create, enforce or pay for it, or where it would be located.
Ankara has been threatening for months to launch an offensive in northern Syria against US-backed YPG militants.
Turkey considers the YPG a terrorist organization and an extension of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which has been fighting for an autonomous region inside Turkey since 1984.
The Turkish military, with support from allied militants of the so-called Free Syrian Army, launched two cross-border operations in northern Syria, the first dubbed “Euphrates Shield” in August 2016 and the second code-named “Olive Branch”in January 2018, against the YPG and Daesh Takfiri terrorists.