Russia said Monday it has invited Kurds to take part in an upcoming Syrian peace congress in Sochi despite a Turkish offensive against Kurdish militia in northern Syria.
“Kurdish representatives have been included on the list of Syrians invited to participate in the Syrian National Dialogue Congress which will take place in Sochi next week,” foreign minister Sergey Lavrov said.
Together with Iran and Turkey, Russia – a key ally of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad – wants to convene a peace conference with the aim of agreeing a new constitution for post-war Syria.
Moscow initially hoped to convene peace talks in Sochi last November but those efforts collapsed due to lack of agreement among the three co-sponsors.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan at the time fumed at the prospect of inviting the PYD and YPG to the conference.
“We cannot consider a terrorist gang with blood on their hands a legitimate actor,” Erdogan said in November without referring to the predominantly Kurdish militia by name,
Turkey views the YPG, which makes up the backbone of the Syrian Democratic Forces, and its linked PYD political party which control Efrin as extensions of Turkey’s Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which has fought a decades-long insurgency mainly in Turkey’s majority-Kurdish southwest. The PKK is designated a terrorist group by Turkey, the United States and European Union, among others, but the YPG is not so designated by the U.S. or E.U.
The Turkish military on Saturday launched the cross-border Operation Olive Branch, aiming to oust the YPG from its enclave of Efrin in northern Syria.
But Lavrov on Monday said that Syrian Kurds should play a role in the “future political process.”
“This role should certainly be ensured,” he told reporters, adding that all of Syria’s ethnic groups should respect the country’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.
Lavrov meanwhile accused Washington of stoking separatist sentiment among Syria’s Kurds.
“Washington has actively encouraged and continues to encourage separatist sentiments among Kurds” while ignoring the “delicate” nature of the issue, Lavrov said.
“This is either a lack of understanding of the situation or an absolutely conscious provocation.”
However, parties in northern Syria have stressed that they want a federal system, not an independent state.
Interfax reported Lavrov as saying that the Coalition plan to set up a Syrian border security force comprised partly of veteran SDF fighters was a “blatant interference in Syrian internal affairs.”
Separately, Russian President Vladimir Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov – asked whether the Turkish offensive would complicate the Sochi congress – declined to comment, but said that the preparations for the conference were under way.
With reporting from AFP