US soldiers
© REUTERS/ Rodi Said
US soldiers stand near military vehicles, north of Raqqa city, Syria
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov has voiced concern that US actions in Syria are aimed at partitioning Syria and accused Washington of using the Kurds to undermine the Arab Republic's territorial integrity.
"Such fears arise when we get acquainted with the plans that the US is beginning to implement on the ground, primarily to the east of the Euphrates, on vast territories between this river and the border with Syria with Iraq and Turkey."
The Russian top diplomat urged Washington not to "play with fire" in Syria and carefully consider its steps based "not on immediate needs of today's political situation, but rather from the long-term interests of the Syrian people and all the peoples of this region, including the Kurds," adding, "It seems to me that the statements of our American colleagues that the only purpose is to fight ISIL [Daesh] and preserve territorial integrity need to be confirmed by actions."

"Unfortunately, with all the statements about the need to unite efforts in the fight against this common evil [terrorism], there is still a desire to use this situation for geopolitical narrow-minded purposes and attempts continue to move away from truly collective work," Lavrov said, when speaking at a session of the Valdai International Discussion Club.

He has emphasized that Syrian sovereignty and territorial integrity must be preserved, in accordance with international law and UN resolutions.

The Kurds are being used in a game, which has no relation to their own interests, the foreign policy chief said, urging the US to refrain from exploiting the so-called "Kurdish factor."

According to Lavrov, the United States is creating governing bodies that are "deliberately" formed in such a way as to "have no connection with Damascus" in the territories located to the east of the Euphrates and up to Syria's border.

Comment: This is the very definition of 'nation-building', which Trump of course vowed to end.

"This can be a very serious problem in terms of meeting the requirements of the UN Security Council to ensure the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Syria... I think that the success of the Syrian settlement depends not on what else Russia can do, but on what the United States will not do, it would be better if they stopped playing very dangerous games that lead to the division of the Syrian state," the minister stressed.

According to Lavrov, Russia has doubts that the US-led coalition truly aims to fight al-Nusra Front terrorists in Syria.

"Al-Nusra Front militants do not halt their provocations. In particular, they shelled residential areas of Damascus, including the Russian embassy, the Russian trade mission, from East Ghouta. Nevertheless, our Western partners for some reason prefer to make a fuss about these two areas - Idlib, East Ghouta, without saying what is happening there," he said.

Previously, the Russian foreign minister blamed the US for aiming to separate part of Syria to create a Kurdish-dominated autonomy.

Reports Alleging Hundreds of Russians Died in Syria Are Attempts to Speculate on War

According to the Russian foreign minister, reports claiming that hundreds of Russian "mercenaries" had been killed in a US-led coalition's airstrike targeting pro-Damascus militia are aiming at "speculating on war."

He emphasized that mercenaries from around the world were fighting in Syria.

Earlier, the Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman, Maria Zakharova, stated that preliminary information suggests that five Russian nationals had died in the strike. According to Zakharova, reports of hundreds of Russian citizens killed in the airstrike are "disinformation" by anti-government forces.

On February 8, US Central Command announced that the coalition conducted what it described as "defensive airstrikes" against pro-government forces near the Euphrates River as a response to an alleged attack against the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) headquarters. The airstrikes have reportedly resulted in the death of at least 100 pro-government troops.

Damascus has slammed the attack as "a new act of aggression that constitutes a war crime and a crime against humanity," while the Russian Defense Ministry said that the attack showcased that the real goal behind Washington's "illegal military presence in Syria" was control over the country's economic assets rather than defeating Daesh.

Later, media reports emerged alleging that a large number of Russian "mercenaries" had been killed in airstrikes. So far, the death of one Russian citizen Kiril Ananyev from an activist group "Another Russia" has been reported by the organization's coordinator.

When asked to comment on the reports, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Wednesday that he didn't rule out that Russian nationals, who do not belong to the Russian Armed Forces, could be in Syria.

Statements That Israel Should Be Destroyed Unacceptable

"We have repeatedly said that we do not accept the statement that Israel, as a Zionist entity, must be destroyed, razed to the ground. I think this is absolutely the wrong way to promote our own interests. Similarly, we do not agree with attempts to address any regional problem through the prism of the objective to fight against Iran," Lavrov said at the conference 'Russia in the Middle East: playing on all fields' in Moscow.

The statement came in response to a remark made by Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, who stated that Israel had violated Syria's airspace and such "aggression" should be stopped.

Zarif referred to IDF's downing of an alleged Iranian drone in Syria, with Damascus' air defenses launching several anti-aircraft missiles against the Israeli F-16 fighter in response.

Following the incident, the Iranian Foreign Ministry has once again denied its military presence in Syria, lambasting claims about the downed drone.

Despite Israeli and US officials' statements, voicing concern over alleged Iranian presence on Syria, Tehran has repeatedly strongly refuted claims of its troops' presence in Syria, however, admitted sending military advisors to help the Syrian government fight terrorists. The Islamic Republic has also been acting as one of the guarantors of the ceasefire regime in the Arab Republic and as a broker in peace talks.