Russia Expects Turkey ‘to Return’ Syria’s Afrin to Rival Assad

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov attends a joint press conference with UN special envoy for Syria Staffan de Mistura following their talks in Moscow on March 29, 2018
AFP Yuri KADOBNOV

Russia expects Ankara to hand over the Afrin region Turkey seized from U.S.-allied Kurds in Syria to the Moscow and Iranian-backed regime of dictator Bashar al-Assad, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said on Monday.

On January 19, a day before the launch of Ankara’s operation to drive out the U.S.-allied Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) from northern Syria’s Afrin territory, Russia, to no avail, attempted to pressure the Syrian Kurds to give the Afrin region to Assad in exchange for military assistance against Turkey’s offensive.

The Kurds refused and Turkey, reportedly assisted by Syrian opposition fighters and anti-religious-minority jihadists, conquered Afrin on March 18.

Now, it appears Russia may end up getting what it wants after all: Afrin to be under the control of the Assad regime, which several assessments show holds more territory in Syria than any of the other warring parties involved in the conflict.

Last month, Gen. Joseph Votel, the top U.S. commander in the Middle East, declared that Assad “has won” the Syrian civil war, courtesy of the assistance it receives from Russia and Iran.

Although U.S. NATO ally Turkey has long argued that the YPG is an extension of the terrorist Kurdistan Worker’s Party (PKK), the American military continues to lend support to the Kurdish fighters in Syria.

Last week, Russia, Turkey, and Iran met again in Ankara to discuss the ongoing chaos in Syria without the United States.

Turkey’s state-controlled Anadolu Agency quotes Russia Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov as telling reporters on Monday:

President Erdogan never stated that Turkey intended to occupy Afrin.

We assume that the simplest way of normalization in Afrin, now, when Turkish representatives say they have reached the fundamental purposes there [in Afrin], is to return the territory of Afrin under control of the Syrian government.

Alluding to the trilateral last week, Minister Lavrov added:

Afrin question was discussed in line with the position, many times stated by [Turkish] President [Recep Tayyip] Erdogan, specifically, Turkey, in the conditions when the U.S. started making approaches to Kurdish squads, aiming to create a certain ‘security belt’ on the border with Iraq, President Erdogan saw a threat in such intentions and plans for the interests and security of Turkey.

Citing President Erdogan, the Associated Press (AP) reports that Turkey and its allies have “neutralized” about 4,017 YPG militants have been “neutralized” since launching the operation to push the Kurds out of northern Syria.

“The Turkish authorities often use the word ‘neutralized’ in statements to imply that the militants in question either surrendered or were killed or captured,” explains AP.

Turkey has threatened to seize northern Syria’s Manbij, home to an allegedly increasing American military presence, from the YPG.

The tension in Manbij has led to a stand-off, pitting Turkey and its allies against the U.S.-backed Kurds.

Again using deadly chemical weapons, the Iranian and Russian-assisted Assad regime forced rebels out of the city of Douma, described by the Washington Post as the “most strategically important district to remain under opposition control,” further consolidating the Syrian dictator’s power.

Assad’s victory in Douma “would effectively mark a death blow to the armed rebellion against Assad, whose government has wielded brutal force to snuff out a seven-year-long uprising,” adds the Post.

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