UN special envoy for Syria Staffan de Mistura (R) and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov (L) held a joint press conference in Moscow on Thursday. Photo: Yuri Kadobnov/AFP
MOSCOW – Russia’s relations with Kurds in Syria have not changed, Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said on Thursday.
Kurds in Syria, who have relations with both the United States and Russia, are facing threats of a military offensive by Turkey across their self-autonomous Rojava region after Turkish forces and allied Syrian militias took control of Afrin.
Kurdish leaders have accused Moscow of giving Ankara the green light for its military operation in Afrin. In Manbij, military leaders are placing their hope in support from US forces based in the city to shield them from a Turkish assault.
Lavrov, in a joint press conference with the UN’s special envoy for Syria Staffan de Mistura in Moscow on Thursday, reiterated Russian concerns that the Americans were “exploiting” their Kurdish allies in Syria.
He called on all parties to work to restore peace and stability and stressed that the rights of Kurds must be preserved along with all groups in Syria.
Lavrov and de Mistura met ahead of next week’s planned meeting of Russian, Turkish, and Iranian leaders in Ankara where the situation in Idlib will be on the agenda.
Idlib is one of the last remaining rebel strongholds in Syria. Turkey, which has relations with Syrian rebel groups, has established a number of “observation posts” in the province as part of the Astana de-escalation process.
The province is home to some 2.5 million people, including rebels recently evacuated from Eastern Ghouta, and an offensive by Moscow-backed Damascus could send a new wave of refugees across the border into Turkey.
Kurds also fear that Turkey is trying to settle Arab families in Afrin.
Lavrov said that there are no plans to expand the de-escalation zones in Syria.
Lavrov and de Mistura also discussed plans to send a United Nations team to Raqqa, the former self-proclaimed capital of ISIS now under control of the Kurdish-led SDF.
The UN has received approval from Damascus to send an assessment team to the city that, while now considered calm, is facing the daunting task of clearing thousands of explosives left behind by ISIS. Russia has been pushing for the UN to send a humanitarian mission to Raqqa.
De Mistura said the UN would first assess the situation and then prepare a proposal for what assistance it could provide. The UN’s Mine Action Service (UNMAS), humanitarian office (OCHA), and the World Health Organization (WHO) would be among the agencies involved in the assessment mission.
Lavrov described the talks with de Mistura as helpful, saying Moscow considers the UN’s role in Syria very important.