Russian President Vladimir Putin (C), Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan (R) and Iranian President Hassan Rouhani pose prior to a trilateral meeting on Syria in the Black Sea resort of Sochi on February 14, 2019. Photo: Sergei Chirikov/AFP/pool
ERBIL, Kurdistan Region – Russia reasserted its position to Turkey that any proposed safe zone in northern Syria must be done under the authority of Damascus and the regime must regain control of the third of the country now secured and administered by Kurdish-led forces.
Russian President Vladimir Putin hosted Turkey’s Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Iran’s Hassan Rouhani – the Astana partners – for their fourth round of Syria talks in Sochi on Thursday.
The ramifications of the announced US withdrawal from northern Syria was one of the main subjects on the agenda for their meeting.
Briefing reporters ahead of the summit, Russian Foreign Ministry spokesperson Maria Zakharova said Russia ruled out any Turkish-led initiative without getting a green light from the Syrian regime.
“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,” she said when asked about the proposed safe zone. “That’s our base position.”
Erdogan argued that Syria’s territorial integrity depends on returning the towns and villages of northern Syria to their “real owners” and clearing the Kurdish political party PYD and armed forces YPG, which Ankara asserts are branches of the PKK.
In a press conference with all three presidents after their meeting, Putin said that the US withdrawal is a “positive step” that will “help to stabilize an area where ultimately the control of the legitimate government should be restored.”
Rouhani was doubtful the Americans will really pull out of the country and not maintain some sort of presence – whether military or a continued “interference in domestic affairs.”
“It’s important for Americans to remember that Kurds are part of Syria,” he said, demanding that the territorial integrity of Syria be respected, while adding that they must also insure the security of Turkey is protected.
Putin noted that their security forces are cooperating on the ground in Syria.
On Thursday morning, Russia’s TASS news agency reported that Russian military police were expanding their patrols in the Manbij area.
They are now operating within a kilometre of “militants from the so-called moderate opposition” and remain on “high alert.”
Russian forces are in the area as part of efforts to prevent clashes between the Turkish-backed militias and Kurdish forces while Ankara threatens a full scale military assault on Manbij and Kurdish territories east of the Euphrates.