Russia to train Kurdish forces in Syria’s Afrin

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Kurdish forces of the YPG in a military camp in Afrin, northern Syria. Photo: ARA News

ARA News

The Russian Army will train the Syrian Kurdish defence forces in Afrin, the YPG announced on Monday.

“The presence of the Russian army units in the Janderis district of the Afrin Canton has taken place as a result of an agreement between our forces and the Russian Army,” People’s Protection Units (YPG) spokesperson Redur Xelil said on Monday.

“The agreement was based on the framework of cooperation in the fight against terrorism and on the military training of our fighters by the Russian army. We have direct relations with Russia,” the YPG said.

“This step is a positive and good step in the fight against terrorism in Syria. After our forces proved themselves against terrorism, many forces want to help our units and arrange a deal with us,” the YPG concluded.

The improvement in relations between the YPG and the Russians comes despite of the normalization of ties between Russia and Turkey in June 2016, and a visit by Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan to Moscow in the beginning of March.

Turkey rejects any role by the Kurdish YPG forces in northern Syria, and considers the YPG as an affiliation of the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK)–designated by Turkey as a terrorist organization.

Relations between Turkey and Russia worsened after Turkey shot down a Russian plane in November 2015. Since then the Russians supported the Kurds in Afrin/Efrin, while the US-led coalition supports the YPG in the Cezire (Hassakah) and Kobani cantons.

However, in June 2015, Erdogan apologized to Putin for downing the Russian jet, and Moscow also supported the Ankara-backed Euphrates Shield operation in Syria launched in August 2016 with even air support.

However, there were several signs that Russia did not drop its support for the Syrian Kurds, when Russia keep insisting they do not see the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) as a terrorist organization, and also expressed the need for the Syrian Kurds to participate in the Geneva and Astana talks. This despite the fact that Turkey was against any form of participation by the Democratic Union Party (PYD) –YPG’s political leadership– in the Syrian peace talks, afraid this would give more legitimacy to the PYD.

In the beginning of March 2017, a Russian aid convoy arrived in Manbij to deter Turkey from attacking the city. Moreover, the YPG-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) reached a deal with Russia to hand over a limited number of villages to the Syrian government in the West of Manbij to deter Turkish aggression and plans to attack Manbij.

Russian analysts suggest that Moscow wants to balance the Turks and the Kurds in Syria, and that it does not want to give up its support for the Syrian Kurds.

No Military Base in Afrin 

In the meantime, the Ministry of Defence of the Russian Federation denied reports about Moscow building a military base in the Kurdish district of Afrin in northwestern Syria.

Reuters reported earlier that Russia had been deploying a new military base in the north-west of Syria, and that the agreement with Moscow had included training of combatants from the Kurdish formations.

“There are no plans to deploy new [Syria] military bases on the territory of the Syrian Arab Republic,” it said.

“According to the Russian-Turkish agreements dated December 30, 2016, the units of the Russian Centre for reconciliation of the opposing sides on the territory of Syria conduct a 24-hour monitoring of the ceasefire. In order to prevent violation of the ceasefire regime, a section of the Russian Centre for reconciliation of opposing sides has been deployed in the contact area between detachment of the Kurdish militia and formations of the Free Syrian Army controlled by the Turkish party (near Afrin in the Aleppo province),” the Russian Defense Ministry said in a statement on Monday.

Reporting by: Wladimir van Wilgenburg | Source: ARA News

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