Moscow defends Syria intervention | News | DW | 26.01.2016
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Moscow defends Syria intervention

Airstrikes supporting loyalists to President Bashar al-Assad have helped turn the tide in Syria, Russia's foreign minister says. Moscow has called for Kurdish militants to be included in peace talks.

Russia has no regrets for its military intervention in the Syrian conflict, Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said Tuesday during his annual press conference with international media.

"The actions of the Russian air force, in response to the request of the Syrian leadership, have really helped to turn around the situation in the country, helped towards reducing the territory controlled by terrorists," Lavrov said.

Forces backing Assad have recently made several key gains on the ground as Syria's civil war enters in fourth year. The conflict has claimed more than a 250,000 lives.

Russia has been accused by Western powers and some Arab states of targeting "moderate rebels" fighting the Assad government in Damascus and inflicting civilian casualties, but Moscow insists that its aim is tackling "terrorist" groups.

Moscow: PYD partner against 'IS'

Lavrov also made Russia's case against Turkey's demand to keep a leading Kurdish group out of Syria's peace talks.

Russia argues that the Kurdish Democratic Union Party (PYD) plays a significant role in fighting "Islamic State" and is an essential part of the political settlement in Syria.

Symbolbild - Kurden in Kobane

Turkey sees the PYD as a branch of the Kurdistan Workers' Party, a Kurdish resistance group it has been fighting since the 1980s.

"How can you talk about political reforms in Syria if you ignore a leading Kurdish party?" Lavrov said.

The US-led coalition had supported PYD fighters on the ground during the siege of Kobani. But more recently it has ruled out any cooperation with the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK).

But Turkey views the PYD as the Syrian branch of the PKK, which is banned by the country and many of its allies. Ankara has argued the PKK is listed as a terror group by both the European Union and the United States and not a credible partner.

That has done nothing to dissuade Moscow from partnering with PYD fighters on the ground as it steps up its air campaign against Islamist rebels, including those supported by Turkey and Saudi Arabia in their bid to oust President Assad.

"Without this participant the talks cannot achieve the results that we want, a definitive political resolution in Syria," Lavrov said, adding, that it would be up to UN envoy Staffan de Mistura to decide which opposition groups to invite to the talks.

Peace talks pushed back until Friday

UN Vermittler für Syrien Staffan de Mistura PK in Genf

UN envoy Staffan de Mistura says invites to opposition groups to attend peace talks to go out Tuesday after negotiations were delayed due to a "stalemate" over composition of delegations.

Progress in setting up those talks - originally scheduled to begin Monday - has stalled over disagreements over who would sit at the table.

De Mistura said this week that discussions on this issue between Washington, Moscow, Ankara, Riyadh and other capitals were ongoing, but added that he planned to send out invitations to different groups later on Tuesday, with the goal of meeting on Friday.

Lavrov also denied that Moscow had ever asked Assad to step down or offered the Syrian president political asylum in Russia.

"No one has asked for or offered any political asylum," he said.

jar/jil (AP, Reuters, AFP, dpa)

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