Russia has promised to protect Kurdish fighters in Syria in case of a ground offensive by Turkey, a move that would lead to a “big war,” the Syrian group’s envoy to Moscow said in an interview on Wednesday.
“We take this threat very seriously because the ruling party in Turkey is a party of war,” Rodi Osman, head of the Syrian Kurds’ newly opened representative office, said in Kurdish via a Russian interpreter. “Russia will respond if there is an invasion. This isn’t only about the Kurds; they will defend the territorial sovereignty of Syria.”
Conflicting interests in Syria have created a dangerous new phase in the country’s five-year war, even as world powers struggle to implement a truce agreement.
Turkey fears Kurdish gains along its border will morph into an autonomous state and inspire similar ambitions among its own Kurdish minority. But a ground intervention risks conflict with Russia, which backs the Kurds militarily, and would anger the United States, which sees the group as a major ally in the fight against Islamic State.
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Turkey has been shelling Syrian Kurdish forces since the weekend, and Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu blamed them for a bombing in Ankara that killed 28 people on Wednesday.
“We are continuing to liberate our territory and it would go faster if it wasn’t for Turkey,” Osman said. Russian warplanes are providing support for the Kurdish offensive, which is aimed at securing full control of the Turkish border.
Russia has said it is helping the Syrian Kurds militarily, and Nikolai Kovalyov, a former head of the Federal Security Service, the main successor to the Soviet KGB, said that Russian jets would bomb Turkish troops if they enter Syria.
Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said any foreign incursion into Syria would be “illegal.”
The Syrian Kurds are trying to create a Kurdish autonomous region in northern Syria by uniting two territories separated by about 60 miles of land controlled by Islamist rebels, according to Anton Lavrov, an independent Russian military analyst.
“That is the Syrian Kurds’ dream and the Turks’ worst nightmare,” Lavrov said.
Russia’s bombing campaign in Syria since September has reversed the tide of the five-year war.