Russia slams US move on Syrian oil fields as ′banditry′ | News | DW | 26.10.2019
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Russia slams US move on Syrian oil fields as 'banditry'

The US push to claim Syrian oil fields is "banditry," the Russian Defense Ministry has said. A US military convoy was heading towards oil fields at Syria's Deir el-Zour, where Washington already maintains a small force.

Russia's Foreign Ministry on Saturday said the US has no right to seize oil fields currently controlled by Kurdish forces in the eastern Syrian area of Deir el-Zour.

The condemnation came amid reports that a US military convoy of a dozen vehicles was moving south towards the site.

An unnamed US military official confirmed to AFP news agency that the Pentagon began reinforcing its presence in Deir el-Zour, which boasts rich oil fields

"This, what Washington is doing now — capturing and maintaining control through the use of arms over oil fields in eastern Syria — that is, to put it simply, international, state-sponsored banditry," said Russian General Igor Konashenkov.

The tension comes as Kurdish-led forces were forced to retreat from parts of the northeast border, as laid out by a cease-fire deal struck bilaterally between Russia and Turkey.

Turkey launched its offensive two weeks ago after US President Donald Trump abruptly ordered all US troops in northeastern Syria to leave. Trump's move paved the way for Turkey to launch a cross-border operation against the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF). Under pressure from the US and Russia, Ankara agreed to a temporary cease-fire to allow Kurdish fighters to pull out of the planned buffer zone along the Turkish border.

Danger of 'Islamic State'

US Defense Secretary Mark Esper said on Friday the Pentagon was considering sending additional troops and armored vehicles further south to Deir el-Zour. The area is currently protected by Kurdish forces, but the US also has some 200 troops at the site. Esper said that sending in reinforcements, which comes after Trump's orders to leave northern Syria, is aimed at preventing the "Islamic State" (IS) group from taking control of the fields.

Watch video 00:23

Esper: 'The United States will maintain a reduced presence in Syria to deny ISIS access to oil revenue'

Russia's Konashenkov said neither international nor US law provided justification for US troops to "defend hydrocarbon deposits of Syria from Syria itself and her people."

"Absolutely all hydrocarbon deposits and other minerals located on the territory of Syria do not belong to the IS terrorists, and even less to the 'American defenders from IS terrorists,' but exclusively to the Syrian Arab Republic," he added.

Russia accuses Pentagon of smuggling oil

Konashenkov also presented satellite recordings provided by the Russian military, which he said showed US troops and mercenaries securing oil smuggling operations in Syria.

The Russian officer said that "under protection by US troops and employees of US private military companies, fuel tankers from oil fields in eastern Syria are smuggled into other countries."

The US did not immediately comment on the allegations. 

On Saturday, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo discussed the Syria conflict in a phone call. Lavrov said it was important to refrain from "steps undermining the sovereignty and territorial integrity" of Syria, according to a statement from the Russian side.

dj/aw (Interfax, AP)

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