Russia invites Kurds to join Syria peace process
MOSCOW - Russia said Monday it has invited Kurds to take part in an upcoming Syrian peace congress in Sochi despite a Turkish offensive against Kurdish militia in northern Syria.
"Kurdish representatives have been included on the list of Syrians invited to participate in the Syrian National Dialogue Congress which will take place in Sochi next week," Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said.
Together with regime backer Iran and rebel supporter Turkey, Russia -- a key backer of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad -- wants to convene a peace conference with the aim of agreeing a new constitution for post-war Syria.
The peace talks have been planned for January 29 and 30.
Moscow initially hoped to convene peace talks in Sochi last November but those efforts collapsed following a lack of agreement among co-sponsors.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan at the time to fumed at the prospect of inviting to the conference the Syrian Kurdish group the PYD and its armed wing, the Kurdish People's Protection Units (YPG).
Without referring to Kurdish militia by name, Erdogan said in November: "We cannot consider a terrorist gang with blood on their hands a legitimate actor."
Turkey considers the YPG to be a terror group and the Syrian offshoot of the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) which has waged a bloody three-decade insurgency against the Turkish state.
The Turkish military on Saturday launched a cross-border operation aiming to oust the YPG from its enclave of Afrin in northern Syria.
But Lavrov on Monday said that Syrian Kurds should play a role in the "future political process."
"This role should certainly be ensured," he told reporters, but added that all of Syria's ethnic groups should respect the country's sovereignty and territorial integrity.
- US 'provocation' -
Lavrov meanwhile accused Washington of stoking separatist sentiment among Syria's Kurds.
"Washington has actively encouraged and continues to encourage separatist sentiments among Kurds" while ignoring the "delicate" nature of the issue, Lavrov said.
"This is either a lack of understanding of the situation or an absolutely conscious provocation."
The US-led coalition battling the Islamic State group has announced it has begun forming a 30,000-strong security force to patrol territory captured from IS.
Separately, Russian President Vladimir Putin's spokesman Dmitry Peskov -- asked whether the Turkish offensive would complicate the Sochi congress -- declined to comment, but said that the preparations for the conference were under way.