Lavrov: “Attempts to profit from anti-terrorist objectives are disturbing”


UPDATE 1030 GMT: Russia has confirmed its intention to establish a permanent military presence in Syria, at the Hmeimim airbase and Tartous naval base in the west of the country.

Defense Minister Sergey Shoigu told reporters, “Last week, the supreme commander-in-chief approved the structure and staff of the main bases in Tartus and Hmeimim. We started forming a permanent group there.”

Earlier this month President Vladimir Putin, on a sudden trip to the Hmeimim base, announced a withdrawal of some Russian forces and warplanes. However, the Kremlin also sent a request for Duma approval of a 49-year contract — with an extension of 25 years — for the permanent Russian position at Tartous.

The Duma, the lower house of the Russian Parliament, confirmed the contract last week. Under the agreement, Russian personnel and the base are not subject to Syrian law.

Putin told lawmakers on Monday:

There is no need for such a widespread use of the Russian armed forces in Syria, as it was before, although we have two stationing sites and we, of course, will continue the fight against terrorism, including in the territory of Syria. If necessary we will work there selectively.

ORIGINAL ENTRY: Trying to push back the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces, Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov has again attacked the group and its US backers.

In an interview with Russian State outlet RT, Lavrov declared that the SDF — created in autumn 2015 to push back the Islamic State in the north and east of Syria — and the US-led coalition do not want to eliminate terrorist organizations, but hope to preserve them for future use.

“Attempts to profit from anti-terrorist objectives – which should be common, unified and without double standards – are disturbing,” Lavrov noted.

He again announced that the American presence is a “clear and blatant violation” of Syrian sovereignty and added the unsupported Russian propaganda that the US is training former members of ISIS and Jabhat al-Nusra, formerly linked to Al Qa’eda, for a “New Syrian Army”: “The information claiming that some US military bases in Syria have started to train militants, including former members of terrorist groups, is of course quite concerning.”

Russia is trying to maneuver between the Assad regime and Kurdish aspirations for autonomy, including in areas taken by the SDF. As ISIS was removed from its last major positions this autumn by a combination of pro-Assad and SDF offensives, the Kurdish-led force took cities such as Raqqa in northern Syria and oil and gas fields in the east on the Iraqi border.

The Assad regime, which has said that a battle with the SDF is imminent, has stepped up its rhetoric in the last 10 days. Bashar al-Assad called the SDF, led by the Kurdish militia YPG, “traitors”. Deputy Foreign Minister Faisal al-Mikdad labelled them as “another Da’esh [Islamic State]”.

See Syria Daily, Dec 23: Russia Announces “National Congress” (Again) — But Will Kurds Be There?

The conflict has complicated Russia’s regularly-delayed ambition for a “national congress”, in the southern Russia resort city of Sochi, to seize the political initiatives. Now scheduled for the end of January, the gathering has been held up by objections to the presence of delegates from the Syrian Kurdish Democratic Party (PYD).

As well as the Assad regime’s dislike of Kurdish autonomy, the PYD and YPG are opposed by Turkey, which sees the groups as linked to the Turkish Kurdish insurgency PKK.

Lavrov maintained on Monday that the the congress will be held and is supported by the UN envoy Staffan de Mistura.

The Foreign Minister said it was not an alternative to the UN-backed Geneva talks. At the same time, he claimed that the discussions earlier this month wer hindered by “preconditions” from the Syrian opposition and “some radical parties” in the group.

In fact, the talks were delayed and then collapsed because of the Assad regime’s insistence that the future of Bashar al-Assad not be mentioned, and its refusal to discuss any topic other than “fighting terrorism”. The UN’s envoy De Mistura said the regime delegation introduced the “new surprising and disturbing condition” that Damascus have full control of all Syrian territory before a new Constitution and elections were considered.

De Mistura also said, in contrast to Lavrov’s portrayal, that the proposed congress should be assessed by its ability to contribute to and support the Geneva negotiations.

Rebels Reject “National Congress”

Rebels have rejected the Sochi conference, arguing that Russia is seeking to bypass the Geneva process and criticizing Russia for war crimes in its alliance with the Assad regime.

About 40 rebel groups issued a Monday statement:

Russia has not contributed one step to easing the suffering of Syrians and has not pressured the regime that it claims it is a guarantor by move in any real path towards a solution….

Russia is an aggressor country that has committed war crimes against Syrians….It stood with the regime militarily and defended its politically and over seven years preventing UN condemnation of Assad’s regime.

Rebels Down Regime Warplane in Northern Hama

Rebels have shot down an Assad regime warplane in northern Hama Province.

The L-39 jet was downed with a MANPADS (man-portable air defense system). The pilot was killed.

Despite a de-escalation zone proclaimed by Russia, pro-Assad forces — supported by the Russians — have been attacking northern Hama and southern Idlib Provinces for weeks, hoping to overrun the area.

Rebels say they have retaken territory recently seized by the regime, inflicting scores of casualties today.