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Russia warns US policies could 'ignite' Syria, despite Moscow's own devastating bombardments of Idlib

Russia's Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov meets his Syrian counterpart at the UN [Getty]

Date of publication: 9 October, 2019

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Russia's foreign minister accused Washington of playing a 'dangerous game' in Syria, despite its own devastating bombardment of Syria that has killed thousands.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov on Wednesday warned of the risks of Washington sending mixed signals on a planned US withdrawal from northern Syria, despite Moscow killing thousands of Syrians during their own horrific bombardments of civilian areas. 

Turkey is preparing for an offensive into northern Syria after US President Donald Trump announced on Sunday he was pulling back American troops whose presence had prevented a long-planned attack on Kurdish forces. 

Trump has blown hot and cold since his surprise announcement, also insisting Washington had not abandoned its Kurdish allies by pulling out of the area.

"(US actions in Syria) are full of contradictions and reflect our American colleagues' inability to reach agreements," Lavrov said on a visit to Kazakhstan's capital Nur-Sultan.

"Americans have violated their promises many times."

He also accused the US of violating Syria's territorial integrity and seeking to create "quasi-states" in northern Syria to the displeasure of Arab tribes living on those territories.

"This is a very dangerous game," Lavrov said.

Russia's top diplomat, who visited Baghdad and the Iraqi Kurdish capital Erbil earlier this week, said he discussed the topic with the Kurdish leaders in Iraq.

"They are extremely alarmed that such a lightweight treatment of this extremely delicate subject could ignite the entire region," Lavrov said.

"This must be avoided at all costs".

'Without warning'

On Tuesday, Turkey said it was ready for an offensive into northern Syria.

The Turkish president has repeatedly threatened to attack Kurdish militants in northern Syria due to their ties with separatists in his own country.

"All of the preparations for an operation have been completed," the Turkish defence ministry tweeted, hours after US forces withdrew from the border area.

Erdogan had earlier said the operation could come at any moment "without warning".

Comment: Syria's Kurds abandoned to a perfect storm of Turkish aggression and US isolationism

Trump's move was seen by critics as an abandonment of Kurdish forces which had been the key US ally in the fight against the Islamic State (IS) group.

But there was confusion later on Monday when Trump tweeted that he would "obliterate" Turkey's economy if it went too far.

Turkish Vice-President Fuat Oktay responded to Trump's threat on Tuesday, warning that "Turkey is not a country that will act according to threats".

"As our president always stresses, Turkey will always set its own path and will take matters into its own hands," Oktay said in a speech in Ankara.

Turkey says it wants a "safe zone" along northern Syria to act as a buffer against Kurdish forces and also allow the return home of up to two million Syrian refugees.

It has previously launched two cross-border offensives against IS in 2016 and the YPG in 2018, with the support of Syrian rebels.

'War crimes'

Russia is a principal ally of the Syrian regime in the conflict and has been involved in the fighting since 2015.

Russia's security council said on Tuesday it was important to avoid hindering the peace process in Syria, following discussions with President Vladimir Putin.

The influential council "remarked that at this stage everyone should avoid any actions that can inhibit the peace process in Syria", Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said.

Russia has killed almost 7,000 civilians since the start of its military intervention in Syria, according to a report released by the Syrian Network for Human Rights (SNHR) last week.

The report emphasised that Russia cannot be "trusted in any political or reconstruction process after committing hundreds of war crimes".

The network documented the deaths of 6,686 civilians, including 1,928 children and 908 women, at the hands of Russian forces since the start of Russia's military intervention in Syria in September 2015.

In-depth: Turkey's three-stage plan to capture northern Syria from Kurdish militias, lasting into 2020

Civilian casualties were concentrated in Aleppo governorate, followed by Idlib and Deir az-Zour.

"Russia is implicated in war crimes and must apologize for these crimes, then repair what it destroyed, compensate the victims, and stop supporting the dynastic dictatorship of one family in Syria," said Chairman of the SNHR Fadel Abdul Ghany.

Agencies contributed to this report.

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