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Russia denies reports of building military base with Syrian Kurds

US Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) (L) talks with Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) during a rally with fellow Democrats before voting on H.R. 1, or the People Act, on the East Steps of the US Capitol on March 08, 2019 in Washington, DC. (AFP photo)
A commander of the Syrian Democratic Forces, mostly made up of US-backed Kurdish fighters, inspects the outskirts of Raqqa on February 6, 2017. (Photo by AFP)

Russia has vehemently dismissed a Reuters report which claims it is constructing a military base in the Afrin district of Syria’s Aleppo Province in alliance with the Kurdish militia controlling the area.

“There are no plans to establish new Russian bases on the territory of the Syrian Arab Republic,” a statement by the Russian Defense Ministry said Monday.

Moscow, however, said it will use a facility in northeastern Syria to observe the implementation of a previously-agreed ceasefire and negotiate local truces between various warring factions there.

“In accordance with the Russian-Turkish agreement signed on December 30, 2016, the Russian Center of Reconciliation carries out round-the-clock ceasefire monitoring. To prevent the violation of the ceasefire, one of the branches of the center has been set up near Afrin, in a spot bordering the territory held by the Kurdish militias, and that under the command of the Turkish-controlled Free Syrian Army,” the statement noted.

On Monday, Reuters cited a spokesman for Kurdish People's Protection Units (YPG) as saying that Russia had signed an agreement with the YPG to set up a military base in Afrin.

“An agreement was signed between our units and Russian forces operating in Syria that will train us in modern military tactics,” YPG spokesman Redur Xelil.

Kurdish fighters from the People's Protection Units (YPG) in the northern Syrian city of Qamishli on April 22, 2016. (Photo by Reuters)

“This is the first agreement of its kind, although we have had previous cooperation [with the Russians] in Aleppo city,” he added.

He said the agreement was part "of the framework of the fight against terrorism," adding that it was signed on Sunday and came into effect on Monday.

Xelil noted that Russian troops were already present at the training camp in the Afrin region, one of the three "autonomous" cantons which is under the control of Kurdish authorities.

The United States, which also backs the Syrian Kurds, has also denied any knowledge of a proposed base.

“Not that I am aware of,” Pentagon spokesman Captain Jeff Davis said at a media briefing, in response to a question about any coordination between Moscow and Washington on the deployment of new troops in the area.

It is likely that a Russian agreement with the YPG, who are currently in control of nearly all of Syria’s northern border with Turkey, would anger Ankara.

Turkey considers the Kurdish forces to be a “terrorist” group and an extension of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK).

The YPG make up the bulk of the so-called Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), a US-backed coalition of fighters who have seized swathes of territory from Daesh in northern Syria.

Founded in October 2015, the SDF is comprised mostly of Syrian Kurds, numbering at least 25,000. It receives equipment, weapons and air support from the US.

Washington has been sponsoring anti-Damascus groups operating in Syria by labeling them as “moderate” militants.

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