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Kurd militia says Russian army will train them, Moscow stays elusive

The YPG militia announced an alleged deal with Moscow that would see Russian army train Kurdish fighters and set up another base in Syria. Russia has denied plans for the base and kept elusive on the training issue.

The new base would be set up in the Kurdish-dominated northwest of Syria, YPG spokesman Redur Xelil said on Monday. The Russian troops have already entered the region of Afrin, near the Turkish border, and moved in some of their army transporters and armored vehicles as well, he added.

Russia and the YPG made a deal that would "help train our forces on modern warfare" and set up a "direct point of contact with Russian forces," Xelil told the Reuters news agency.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights confirmed that nearly 100 Russian soldiers have entered the Afrin area.

Providing training to Kurdish fighters would infuriate Turkey, which sees the YPG as a terrorist militia fighting for an independent Kurdistan. Ankara has already raised this issue with the US, which supports the YPG as a force against the "Islamic State" and al Qaeda in Syria. Such a move could also alienate Russia's ally Bashar al-Assad. While the YPG has mostly avoided direct conflict with the regime weakened by war, the two sides have a long history of enmity.

However, the Russian Defense Ministry denied that it was setting up a base in Afrin.

"There are no plans to establish new Russian bases in Syria," officials told the Interfax news agency.

Instead, they said that a department of their "reconciliation center" has been relocated to an area near Afrin. The center is in charge of negotiating local truces between the civil war factions.

'We do have contacts'

Moscow also did not confirm an agreement to train the YPG. At the same time, Russian officials remained vague when pressed for details.

Syrien Russischer Soldat in Hanono Aleppo (Reuters/O. Sanadiki)

Russia already maintains a sizable force in Hemeimeem, on Syria's Mediterranean coast

Russia will cooperate with the Kurds, but will also take into account the interests of Turkey and other key players, according to deputy head of Russian parliamentary committee for foreign affairs, Franz Adamovitch Klinzevitch.

"Of course, we do have contact with the Kurdish rebels, and it likely includes some agreements. At the same time, it's important to note that setting up a Russian military base in Syrian Kurdistan would be a whole new level of this relationship," he told Interfax.

"There is only one legitimate government in Syria, the one led by Bashar al-Assad, and Russia […] can only make such arrangements with it."

Ankara: No terror state

When asked about suggestions the Russian army would provide training to the YPG, Klinzevitch said that the Russian position remained the same.

"We are ready to cooperate with all forces who oppose terrorism worldwide, including Syria. It is another matter to discuss different ways of this cooperation. Decisions like that are made depending on a lot of concrete factors."

Watch video 02:47

Russia and Turkey: friends or foes?

Meanwhile, Turkish Deputy Prime Minister Numan Kurtulmus said that Ankara would never allow a "terror region, a terror state" to be established in northern Syria, referring to the YPG.

"We have conveyed this to all interested parties in almost every meeting. The Russians know this, and the Americans know this and other countries know this," Kurtulmus said during a press conference in Ankara.

dj/gsw (Reuters, AFP, Interfax)

 

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