ANKARA (Reuters) - Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan on Tuesday criticised Russia’s stance on the future of Syria’s Afrin region, saying that Ankara itself would decide the details of returning the area to the Syrian people.
“We know very well who we’ll hand Afrin to. First, let’s talk about handing over areas controlled by other countries in Syria to Syria,” Erdogan told reporters, dismissing comments from Russia’s foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov.
“When the time comes, we will give Afrin to the people of Afrin personally, but the timing of this is up to us, we will determine it, not Mr. Lavrov,” he said.
Lavrov on Monday said the easiest way to normalise the situation in Afrin was to put the area back under the control of Syrian government, the Interfax news agency reported.
While Turkey is cooperating with both Russia and Iran to wind down some of the violence in Syria, Ankara has long demanded that President Bashar al-Assad must go and has backed rebels against him. Assad’s main backers are Moscow and Tehran.
Turkey has waged a military campaign to drive Kurdish YPG fighters from the northwestern Afrin district, while Russian air power and Iran-backed militias have supported Syrian army offensives in the Idlib and Ghouta regions.
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani has said that Afrin should be handed over to Syria’s army.
Turkey considers the YPG, which is backed by the United States in the fight against Islamic State, to be a terrorist organisation.
Reporting by Gulsen Solaker; Writing by Ali Kucukgocmen; Editing by Daren Butler and Robin Pomeroy