A new Turkish military operation in northern Syria would be unacceptable for Russia, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said during a press conference in Moscow with his Syrian counterpart on Tuesday.
Lavrov’s comments come as Turkish officials ramp up threats to launch a new full-scale offensive against Kurdish-led groups in North and East Syria, with the Turkish defence minister on Monday remarking that the operation was “already happening”.
Ankara, the main backer of Syrian opposition groups since the start of the 11-year Syrian civil war, has made it a priority to clear Kurdish-led political and militant organisations away from areas on the Turkey-Syria border that are predominantly Kurdish. Turkish forces have seized and now occupy large swathes of territory in north Syria.
Speaking at the press meeting in Moscow, Syrian Foreign Minister Faisal Mekdad called on Turkey to withdraw its forces from these areas and to stop interfering in Syria’s internal affairs.
Lavrov said Russia had been working for years to normalise Turkish-Syrian relations and Moscow’s main goal was “to prevent new military actions” in Syria.
This year Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has frequently discussed his plan to launch a new military operation in north Syria, in which he aims to extend Turkey’s control of a 30-km deep stretch of land south of the Turkish border.
Erdoğan says the operation is necessary to protect Turkey from groups he labels as ‘terrorists’. But critics say the Turkish President is using the new operation to drum up support ahead of Turkey’s 2023 national elections. Some critics say that another of Erdoğan’s primary aims is to resettle millions of Syrian refugees within the so called “safe-zone” to create a populace that is more sympathetic to Turkey than the current Kurdish inhabitants.
Russian President Vladimir Putin reportedly rebuffed Erdoğan’s planned operation during an August meeting in Sochi. Turkey has refrained from triggering a full-scale assault, but has ramped up its aerial and artillery assaults on targets northern Syrian targets in recent months.