The U.S.-allied Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) in northern Syria have reportedly acknowledged “direct relations with Russia,” noting the Kremlin is providing training.
U.S.-backed YPG militiamen, who have some ties to communist entities, constitute the armed wing of the Kurdish Democratic Union Party (PYD) that controls large swathes of northern Syria.
On Monday, the ministry of defense in Moscow denied that Russia is operating in northern Syria, noting, “There are no plans to deploy new Russian military bases on the territory of the Syrian Arab Republic,” reports Rudaw.
However, the Kremlin acknowledged in Monday’s statement that Russian troops had been deployed to “the contact area between a detachment of the Kurdish militia and formations of the Free Syrian Army controlled by the Turkish party [near Afrin in Syria’s Aleppo province],” to prevent ceasefire violations.
“Earlier, the Reuters news agency referring to representatives of the Kurdish militia had reported that Russia had been deploying a new military base in the northwest of Syria, and that the agreement with Moscow had included training of combatants from the Kurdish formations,” added the ministry, refuting the news outlet’s report.
Meanwhile, Redur Xelil, a YPG spokesperson, declared that Russia has indeed established a military footprint in northern Syria, particularly in the westernmost Kurdish canton of Afrin, reveals Rudaw.
Russian troops are in the Kurdish-controlled Syrian region “as a result of an agreement between our forces and the Russian army,” noted the YPG spokesperson.
“The agreement was based in the framework of cooperation in the fight against terrorism and on the military training of our fighters by the Russian army,” he added. “We have direct relations with Russia.”
The spokesperson referred to the cooperation between the Kurds and Russia as a “positive and good step in the fight against terrorism in Syria,” adding that U.S.-backed YPG fighters are working with “many forces.”
Xelil’s comments come nearly a month after Marine Corps Gen. Joseph Dunford, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, conceded that a provision in a U.S. bill signed into law by former President Barack Obama “prevents” the United States “from having military-to-military cooperation” with Russia.
This month, Dmitry Peskov, a spokesman for the Kremlin, also expressed frustration about the lack of “meaningful communication” between Presidents Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin.
Afrin, the alleged home of the Russian troops in Kurdish-held northern Syria, is of one of three cantons that make up the autonomous region of Rojava.
In March of last year, Kurds announced that they would combine three Kurdish-led areas in northern Syria into an autonomous federal system.
Afrin “is bordered by Turkey to the north and west, rebel groups to the south-west, regime forces to the south-east, and Turkish-backed forces to the east,” points out Rudaw.
Turkey has labeled the “Marxist” YPG militia as an affiliate of the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), a communist guerrilla group that has been designated a terrorist organization by both Ankara and Washington.
Nevertheless, while the United States has officially deemed the PKK a terrorist group, it has not attached the same designation to communist organization’s alleged Syrian affiliates the YPG and PYD.
Following a nearly year-long hiatus that started after the Turkish military shot down a Russian plane in November 2015, Turkey and Russia repaired their deteriorating relationship.
Throughout the Syrian civil war, Russia and Turkey have been on opposite sides of the conflict.
While Russia has supported the Iran-backed regime of Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad, Turkey has backed opposition troops.
Reuters recently reported that the YPG had 60,000 fighters as of the end of 2016, including of the Women’s Protection Units (YPJ).