Lavrov: Moscow understands Ankara’s concerns over PKK in Syria
Russia understands Türkiye’s concerns about the presence of members of the PKK terrorist group’s Syrian wing, the YPG, in northern Syria, Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Wednesday as the countries struggle to see eye to eye on targeting terrorist groups.
Defense officials from Türkiye, Syria and Russia held landmark talks at the end of last year in an effort to normalize relations between Ankara and Damascus after years of war in the Middle Eastern country.
NATO member Türkiye has played a major part in the conflict, backing Bashar Assad’s opponents and sending troops into the north. Moscow is Assad’s main ally and Russian President Vladimir Putin has urged reconciliation with Ankara.
Lavrov on Wednesday also announced he would meet with his counterparts from Türkiye and Syria to discuss the ongoing situation, a week after a senior Turkish official revealed the three countries were aiming to bring together their foreign ministers sometime this month in what would be the highest-level talks between Ankara and Damascus since the civil war broke out in 2011.
“Türkiye, as you know, is in favor of normalizing relations with Damascus,” Lavrov told a televised news conference.
Russia had been asked to mediate between the two neighbors, he said. Therefore, a meeting of foreign ministers was now being set up, Lavrov said, echoing the anonymous Turkish official.
“One of the biggest problems is Idlib,” Lavrov pointed out. Türkiye, he said, must separate the pro-Turkish forces there from the Nusra Front, which Moscow and Damascus classify as terrorists.
Joint Turkish-Russian patrols along the main highway to Aleppo have also not worked so far, Lavrov noted.
The conflict in Syria, which has killed hundreds of thousands of people, displaced millions and drawn in regional and world powers, has rolled into a second decade, although fighting has subsided.
With backing from Russia and Iran, Assad’s regime has recovered most of Syria’s territory. Turkish-backed opposition fighters still control a pocket in the northwest, and YPG terrorists backed by the United States also control territory near the Turkish border.
The U.S. has mainly partnered with the terrorist YPG in fighting against Daesh in Syria. Ankara strongly opposes its presence in northern Syria, where it can plan attacks on Turkish territory and terrorizes local Syrians. Multiple Turkish officials have underlined that “subcontracting” a terrorist group to fight another was “a mistake.”
The meeting of top diplomats would shift talks toward political issues and away from security, and set the stage for Assad and Erdoğan to meet. Erdoğan earlier in January expressed willingness to meet his foe after the foreign ministers of both countries met.
Late in December, Defense Minister Hulusi Akar also revealed Türkiye was in talks with Russia related to using Syrian airspace in a possible operation against the YPG. Ankara had also indicated that Türkiye and Syria could work on counterterrorism efforts as the YPG occupies almost one-third of the land in Syria, thereby damaging the territorial integrity of the country.
The situation on the Turkish-Syrian border remains difficult as Türkiye strives to target YPG terrorists’ home bases in the region and preserve a security strip it has been working to establish for years.