The Russian Foreign Ministry has denied Turkish accusations that Russia is conducting ethnic cleansing in Syria, saying they are groundless and demonstrate Ankara’s detachment from reality.
“It is strange to make such statements as they demonstrate the complete detachment of the Turkish leadership from reality, from what is actually happening in the region,” said the ministry’s spokesperson Maria Zakharova.
Turkish leaders, including President Recep Erdogan, have been accusing Russia of deliberately targeting ethnic Turks in Syria after the downing of a Russian warplane on the Turkish-Syrian border. A Turkoman militant group killed the pilot of the downed bomber as he was parachuting to the ground, an act the US State Department claimed was self-defense, but which the Geneva Convention unambiguously forbids. Russia launched retaliation attacks on militants in the area after the incident.
Speaking at a weekly briefing, Zakharova lashed out at the ongoing Turkish incursion into Iraq. Last week, Ankara sent a tank battalion into western Iraq and refused to withdraw despite protests from Baghdad.
“Judging by the reaction of some members of the UN Security Council, the actions of the Turkish military were a surprise even for its closest allies. Although thanks to the notorious block solidarity they refrained from critical comments directed at Ankara over those actions that blatantly violate international law,” she said.
She added: “It is becoming increasingly clear that if there is one thing they know how to do collectively in NATO, it’s staying collectively silent.”
The spokesperson said the UN Security Council will soon discuss the conflict over the Turkish incursion and that hopefully the scrutiny would restrain “hotheads in Ankara.”
Turkey insists the deployment of troops was necessary to train Kurdish troops fighting against the terrorist group Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS/ISIL), and that Iraq authorized it in 2014. So far Turkey has been bombing Kurdish forces more than those of IS, seeing them as a threat to national security. This put Ankara at odds with the US, which is leading an international coalition fighting IS in Iraq and Syria.
The complicated tangle of conflicting interest undermines the coalition’s effort to defeat IS, Zakharova remarked, calling on Washington to go public with a clearly defined concept for its campaign.
“It’s almost impossible to understand when nations act as part of the coalition and when they act out of their private interests,” she said. “It would have been nice if the US had explained to the world and other nations their concept of what the coalition is doing in the region.”
The US distanced itself from the bomber downing incident, saying that Turkey acted on its own when it attacked the Russian plane. NATO took a similar stance, saying it was not an alliance issue, but supported Turkey’s right to defend itself.
Ankara insists the Russian plane was downed after a 17-second incursion into Turkish airspace and that lethal response to such a breach was justified. Moscow denies crossing the border and believes Turkey stabbed Russia in the back, while protecting the illegal trade of Syrian oil, from which top Turkish officials profit.