Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov has censured the “illegal” military presence of the United States on the ground in Syria, saying Washington plans to keep its forces in the Arab country “forever.”
Lavrov told multilingual news media service Euronews on Friday that US special forces had been operating on the ground in Syria in the past few years without the Syrian government’s consent and a United Nations (UN)’s mandate.
“They have been there consistently for two or three years — almost for the whole period that the Washington-led coalition has worked in Syria, and all this time, the US special forces and other units are in Syria on the ground, illegally, without any invitation from Damascus, or without any mandate of the UN Security Council,” he said.
The US has been leading a number of countries in an aerial bombardment campaign against purported Daesh positions in Syria and Iraq since 2014. But the US has also stationed a number of special forces on the ground in Syrian territory.
Lavrov warned that “the international presence of the US doesn’t decrease, but rather grows.”
“It is clear that the US probably has such a strategy to settle in Syria forever, with its armed forces, just as they want to do in Iraq and Afghanistan, despite all promises made,” he said.
He warned that the US was attempting to create a “quasi-local authority” with the help of Syrian Kurds.
“And so when they settle forever in Syria, which they are already doing now, and despite all promises, they isolate a huge piece of the Syrian territory, in infringement of the sovereignty of the Syrian Arab Republic, and create there some kind of quasi-local authority, and in every possible way try to create there an autonomous unit with the support of the Kurds,” he said.
The US announced last month that it would work with the so-called Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) — a US-backed group of Kurd and Arab militants — to set up a new 30,000-strong “border security” force along the Turkish border with Iraq and within Syria along the Euphrates River.
The announcement infuriated Turkey, which soon launched a military incursion in Syria’s Afrin region in a declared bid to eliminate the Kurdish militants on its borders.
Lavrov said that the Americans have been consistently arming the Kurdish troops while ignoring Ankara’s “repeated warnings” against such a policy.
“From the very beginning of its actions in Syria, Americans bet on the Kurds and ignored Turkey’s discontent,” he said.
Russia and Turkey, along with Iran, have been brokering a peace process between Syrian warring parties in the Kazakh capital of Astana. Russia and Iran are Syrian government allies, and Turkey is an ally of the anti-Damascus militants.
Russia has also been conducting an aerial bombardment campaign of its own in Syria on a request from the Syrian government since September 2015.
Recently, a US airstrike in Syria was said to have killed a number of Russian nationals. Russian Foreign Ministry Maria Zakharova said “five people, presumably Russian citizens” were killed, adding that the incident and the nationalities of the victims were still being investigated.