Russia: We ‘respect’ Kurdish sovereignty in Syria but US must leave

By Rudaw   10 May 2019

Russian FM Sergey Lavrov (right) and his Iranian counterpart Mohammad Javad Zarif shake hands at the end of a joint press conference following talks in Moscow on May 8, 2019. Photo: Alexander Nemenov
Russian FM Sergey Lavrov (right) and his Iranian counterpart Mohammad Javad Zarif shake hands at the end of a joint press conference following talks in Moscow on May 8, 2019. Photo: Alexander Nemenov

ERBIL, Kurdistan Region — Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said the situation in northeastern Syria is “alarming” as the US-led international coalition exploit Kurds and relocate them to areas “where Arabs used to live” during a press conference in Moscow with Iranian counterpart Javad Zarif on Wednesday.

“As of the Eastern side of the Euphrates, this is also alarming. We know for a fact foreign troops are situated there. We know special forces are situated there, occupying the territory. No one asked them to come. They are staying there illegitimately. They are playing the Kurdish card these days. That is happening in territories controlled by the Americans and their allies,” Lavrov said.Zarif also discussed topics including the latest status of Iran nuclear deal, formally the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) which the US withdrew from in May 2018, sanctions, bilateral relations, and the eight-year Syrian conflict including the role of the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF).
Lavrov, whose government initially supported the SDF in northwest Syria against Turkish-backed offensives only to green light last year’s Operation Olive Branch against the Kurdish canton of Afrin, expressed that “Kurds in Syria should have their rights protected.”

“We firmly believe that the Kurdish issue should be settled respecting the territorial integrity and sovereignty of every country where the Kurds live. We believe that the Kurds in Syria should have their rights protected. They are a nation. They have their history. They lived in Syria for centuries. So, these people should live within their territories. That’s their heritage, history,” he said.

The Syrian Democratic Council (SDC), the political wing of the US-backed SDF invited Arab tribes to a forum in Ain al-Issa in a bid to strengthen ties with and maintain the support of these tribes. The representatives of 70 Arab tribes and clans attended the forum, coming from 50 kilometers north of Raqqa.

The SDF is an umbrella force led by the predominately-Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG). The SDF now controls about a third of Syria such as the cities of Kobane, Qamishli, and Raqqa, the large oil fields of Deir ez-Zor, national infrastructure like Tishrin Dam, and the agricultural lands of Hasakah — areas which Damascus could not directly.

“The attempts which I see on the part of the US to relocate them to territories where the Arab tribes used to live – this is a very damaging process … it’s going to divide the efforts of everybody…” Lavrov added.

Lavrov’s comments follow reports of protests against the Kurdish administration in Arab-populated areas. Deir ez-Zor has seen weeks of protests by Arab tribes, demanding basic services, removal of forcible conscription of youth and suspension of oi deals with Syrian government.

Lavrov said relocation would be a “very damaging process,” without providing evidence of where it was occurring.
Because it “divides the efforts of all everybody [who are carrying out] a good process,” naming France as an example — remarks conveniently timed on May 8, the anniversary the European Allies Victory Day over Nazi Germany in World War II. “We hope that our colleagues and partners will deliver their promise to respect the territorial integrity and sovereignty of Syria. As you can see, the situation is very complicated.”

Relations between Syrian Kurds and Arabs are historically strained. Tensions erupted 15 years ago over a football match in Qamishli, resulting in the death of 30 Kurds. However in March, an Arab team and Kurdish team played in the same location in a friendly match without incident.

Russia and Iran have served as the primary backers of the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in the conflict that has killed roughly 400,000 people and displaced half of the country’s population at one time or another. Both are in the country at the invitation of Assad.

Zarif, whose government was also busy considering leaving parts of the nuclear deal, also used the press conference to slam the “illegitimate” US presence in Syria.
“The American presence in Syria is illegitimate … our presence there always triggered them. This creates tensions,” he said.
With Tehran ever dependent on Russia to circumvent suffocating US sanctions, Zarif echoed Lavrov’s stance with regards to the US presence in northeast Syria.

“Due to the policy of supremacism that the United States is promoting, we’re talking about trying to relocate nations within the Syrian republic, they’re trying to relocate some nations from the areas where they used to live to incite tensions between different nations,” he said.

Zarif claimed that Iran is fighting ISIS because the United States created ISIS.

“We believe that it is the United States’ presence in the region that is destructive and contributing to tensions. It created al-Qaeda. It created Taliban. It all happened because of United States presence in our region. It all happened because of the United States policy,” he said.
US President Donald Trump supporting Israel’s control of the Golan Heights “and suppressing the rights of the Palestinian people” is harmful to the region, Zarif argued.
“We believe that the United States needs to take a step back from this destructive policy,” he said.

“All this made our people actually hate the United States to some extent. But this has nothing to do with Iran. This has to do with the policy of the United States… I believe that the US president is looking to create some tension in the region,” he further claimed, adding that National Security Advisor John Bolton makes “radical statements.”

Without Washington’s involvement in the Middle East, peace would prevail.

“We do not want any tensions here, and we have proven that with our actions. We have proven that we are on the peaceful track and that it’s possible to achieve success through a peaceful process,” he said.

Tehran remains committed to a diplomatic approach, underscored Zarif.

“We are not contributing to tensions. We do nothing to increase the tensions in the region,” the Iranian FM said from Moscow.

The SDC have defended their decision to work with the Americans to protect their homelands, families, and Syrian sovereignty — both east of the Euphrates and to the west in Afrin. The SDC has also opened its own door to conditioned negotiations with Damascus, though it has not seen any progress.

In December, Trump announced the United States would with draw all of its 2,200 forces from Syria. However, he later backtracked to leaving 400 forces and implored on regional and international actors to play a greater role in stabilization and preventing an ISIS resurgence.

The United States plans to split the forces in the northeast and at its garrison on the Jordan-Iraq-Syria border at At Tanf. SDF Commander-in-Chief Mazloum Kobane says the US force levels would be “insufficient” to ensure the lasting defeat of ISIS.